Obsolete Denominations of United States Coins

By:  Henry M. Smith


The United States has issued coins for over two hundred years, and several denominations have become obsolete.  Other denominations have had major changes


One of the early coins issued was the half cent piece.  It was minted through 1857, after which its production ceased.  With the current talk of eliminating the penny, there certainly is no need for a fraction of a cent.  When it was minted, the dollar had a much higher buying power, and a half cent was a significant monetary unit.


While the one cent coin is not an obsolete denomination, the large cent should be mentioned.  A one cent coin of its size is indeed obsolete.  The last large cent was last minted in 1957, the year after the small cent, the flying eagle, made its appearance. The flying eagle was itself only minted in three consecutive years.


Two denominations that had short production periods were the two cent piece and both three cent pieces.  The two cent piece was minted from 1864 through 1873.  The three cent pieces consisted first of the silver three cent piece minted from 1851 through 1873, and the nickel three cent piece minted from 1865 through 1889.  Notice the overlap of the years during which these two coins were minted.  The problem with the silver coin was that is was much too small.


While the denomination of five cents continues today, the original five cent coin was the half dime.  These coins had a rather long run, and were not discontinued until after 1873.  The nickel began production is 1866, hence there was an unusually long period during which two different five cent pieces were minted.


Another denomination that was minted only over a short period was the twenty cent piece.  These coins were only minted from 1875 through 1878.  Because the size was too close to that of the quarter, and the coin caused too much confusion, it met a rapid demise.


In 1935, the last silver dollars were minted.  This denomination remained dormant until the Eisenhower dollar appeared in 1971.  This issue lasted only until 1978.  In 1979, the smaller Susan B. Anthony dollar replaced the Eisenhower dollar.


Gold coins were minted in many denominations.  Some of these are currently being revived, but the extensive time between the last gold coins minted in 1933 and the current gold bullion coins makes their inclusion appropriate.  The older gold coins were minted in denominations one dollar, two and a half dollars, three dollars, four dollars, five dollars, ten dollars, and twenty dollars.  The four dollar denomination was particularly short, being minted in only two years, 1879 and 1880.


These obsolete denominations, and the other coins mentioned here, are obtainable through a dealer, but they will not be found in circulation.


This article is being made available from Black Spaniel Gallery Coins at http://blackspanielgallery.com by the author.  Links to major English speaking mints are available at Black Spaniel Gallery.


Many coins have obsolete types, not included here.  The focus of this article is to make the readers aware of the obsolete denominations of United States coins, and the denominations that continued, but were either significantly altered in size or had a lengthy lapse in time of minting.

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