U.S. Coins Overview
shall have the Power . . . To Coin Money."
(Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 8.)
In the fledgling United States standardized coins and currency was important. The
most popular standard of value was the Spanish silver dollar and its fractional pieces
of eight, however, English coins of pounds, shillings and pence also were also widely
accepted. This presented several problems, trade was hampered in many ways,
particularly between the states, since each state valued the Spanish coins differently
in relation to English issues. Much discussion took place concerning the necessity
and structure of a reliable and stable system of coinage.
Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton along with financier Robert Morris, advocated
the use of the decimal system, as introduced by the Dutch inventor Simon Stevin van
Brugghe which was translated into English in 1608 as Disme: the art of tenths, or,
Decimall arithmeticke. Since the gold ten-dollar piece would approximate the British
double guinea, and the silver dollar would correspond to the Spanish eight reales
and the copper cents would be equivalent to the English halfpenny, it seemed to
Jefferson this system would solve the conflicting foreign coin problems.
On April 2, 1792, Congress passed The Coinage Act, which created the Mint and
authorized construction of a Mint building in the nation's capitol, Philadelphia.
This was the first federal building erected under the Constitution.
The Mint Act of April 2, 1792, also provided that ". . . the money
of account of the United States shall be expressed in dollars or units, dismes or
tenths, cents or hundredths, . . . a disme being the tenth part of a dollar . . ."
It seemed very fitting that this country, born of revolution, should use a revolutionary
system for coinage.
In the Act of 1792, Congress mandated that all American coins show on one side
"an impression emblematic of Liberty, with an inscription of the word Liberty,
and the year of coinage; and upon the reverse of each of the gold and silver
coins shall be the representation of an eagle, with this inscription, 'UNITED
STATES OF AMERICA'. . . " Many changes in coin designs have been made since 1792;
however, much from the original design scheme remains.
President George Washington appointed Philadelphian David Rittenhouse, a leading
American scientist, as the first Director of the Mint. Under Rittenhouse, the Mint
produced its first circulating coins -- 11,178 copper cents, which were delivered
in March 1793. Soon after, the Mint began issuing gold and silver coins as well.
The 1792 law directed American money to be made of gold, silver and copper in
denominations of $10, $5 and $2.50 pieces. The dollar, half-dollar, quarter,
dime and half-dime were composed of silver. The cent and half-cent were made of copper.
United States Circulating Coin Types