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Coin Of the Month

Uncovering America's Heritage... Coin by Coin

1876 Twenty-Cent Coin

Hi there, friends!  It's me, Goldie, with May's coin, a coin I never even heard of before now!

America's coins have gone through a lot of changes.  One coin we tried out was this 20-cent coin.  But it didn't last long.  In fact, you could call it our shortest-lived circulating coin!

Thomas Jefferson suggested a twenty-cent coin in his currency plan.  But Congress didn't include that denomination in the Act that established the United States Mint and its coin denominations in 1792.  Congress favored a 25-cent coin equal to two reales, which was one quarter of a Spanish dollar.

We used to use foreign coins like the Spanish dollar because the Mint didn't have enough gold, silver, and copper to make all the American coins we needed.  (You can learn more about the Spanish dollar in the February 2003 Coin of the Month.)  One of those other coins was the Spanish "pistareen," worth a fifth of a dollar or 20 cents.  So, in a way, there already was a 20-cent coin that Americans used.  It just wasn't an American coin.

Long about the mid-1800s, we started having enough American coins in circulation that we didn't need to use foreign coins anymore.  It was time to make our own 20-cent coin.  So why didn't it last?

Well, the new coin had the same designs on it as the other coins of the day.  Since its size was close to the quarter's size, people often got the two coins mixed up.  So in May of 1878, a bill was passed that put the 20-cent piece to rest.  Most of the last ones made were melted down by the Mint.

The Mint only made circulating versions of this coin for two years (1875 and 1876).  For the other two years, the only kind minted were proof issues, which don't circulate.  It's interesting that only about a million of these coins was made during those four years.  Today, the Mint can make a million coins in just a few hours!

Goldie, the Mint Fish

Teacher Feature

Obverse of 1876 20-cent coin
Obverse:  The image of Lady Liberty sitting on a rock is one of the longest-running designs in American coin history. This Christian Gobrecht design was used on coins from half dimes through dollars for 55 years (1837 through 1891).

Reverse of 20-cent coin
Reverse:  Like the eagle on our modern quarter, the eagle on the back of this coin is holding arrows and an olive branch, symbols of war and peace.



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