Guide to the History of US Coinage

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Guide to the History of US Coinage

Everyday we use coins and we don’t even really think about how they evolved or where they came from. Occasionally though, we do look twice when we notice an older date imprinted on a coin. Unlike many older civilizations, US coinage only came about fairly recently during the late 1700s. Before that, people simply traded for goods, such as tobacco, with foreign coins. Of course, with the birth of a new country, it had to have its own unique currency. Let’s have a look at how coins in the United States evolved over the last few centuries.

History of Us CoinageBeginning of Coins in the U.S.

In 1792, American Congress passed the country’s first coinage act. This meant that the United States Mint was officially responsible for creating coins for public use. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were two of the men who contributed research and ideas towards the early versions of the coins. The Treasury Seal that was developed actually remained quite the same even until today.

Dollar Coin History

Today the word “dollar” is synonymous with American currency, but did you know that it is actually derived from a medieval European coin? When masses of Dutch settlers moved over to the New World, they brought the concept of leeuwendalers, a Dutch coinwith them.The idea of US coinage by way of a dollar coin was developed to discourage people from trading with other foreign currencies. When U.S. coins were introduced, there was a transitional period of a few years before foreign coins were officially not recognized as legal tender any more. However, in the beginning the U.S. was experiencing a shortage of silver and gold; both vital for coin production at the time. To get around this, the government declared that Spanish coins would indefinitely be legally recognized even though it was a foreign currency. By the mid-1800s, the Californian Gold Rush produced a sudden influx of gold, thus allowing the Spanish coin exception to be revoked.

Sacagawea History

The Sacagawea dollar coin was released by the U.S. Mint to commemorate a native woman by the same name. Sacagawea history is popular since she joined Lewis and Clark on their expedition as their guide. Together they explored massive amounts of unknown territory in the Western States. In those days, and to some extent even by today’s standards, it is a very impressive feat. The journey was difficult and dangerous; at some point the group even resorted to consuming tallow candles when they lacked sufficient food. Pomp, the baby that appears on Sacagawea’s back, was the child that she had with her French husband, Toussaint Charbonneau. Sacagawea became so well known that she was later honored with statues in many different areas. The Sacagawea history coin named after her is a gold colored coin released intermittently between 2000 to the present.

Evolution of Coins Today

During the 1950s, a new act was issued to modify the metallic content of the coins. Since there was a shortage of silver, the new Coin Act allowed some coins, such as dimes and quarters, to be produced without any silver at all. Instead it was replaced by alloys made up of metals including manganese, copper, and nickel. Today in the U.S., the Mint issues new coins fairly regularly. Occasionally special coins are issued as a commemorative or collector’s item. Some excellent examples are coins that feature past U.S. presidents. Even though they are legal tender, they are not specifically meant for casual use. Coin collecting is a major hobby in the United States and abroad. Many people enjoy collecting, cataloging, and studying historic American coins.


By Kelly Anderson


Written by Mint

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