Fun Facts

There was a nickelless nickel.... During World War II (1942 to 1945), the five-cent coin was made of an alloy of copper, manganese, and silver. Nickel was kept aside for use in the war effort.
The buffalo was once a newcomer.... When the bison appeared on the Buffalo nickel (1913 to 1938), it was the first animal on a circulating American coin that was not an eagle. This newcomer kept its status as the only non-eagle animal until the 50 State Quarters Program introduced more animals (and more buffalo) in 1999.
The nickel had a growth spurt.... The first five-cent pieces were small. Called "half dimes," they weighed exactly half as much as a dime because their values were based on the amount of silver used to make them. The half dime's tiny size (about 16 mm) meant the coin was hard to handle and easy to lose. In 1865, Mint Director James Pollock thought that a five-cent coin made of nickel alloy would be a good trade for the five-cent paper notes that were circulating then. It turned out to be a good replacement for the half dime, too!
The Mint once made two different 5-cent coins.... The first 5-cent coin was made of silver. This very small "half dime" was minted until 1873, even though the nickel version was created in 1866. So, for several years, both kinds of 5-cent coins—of different metals, in different sizes, with different designs—were made and circulated—but only one was a nickel!
“Nickel” is a rascal.... The word "nickel" dates back to the 1750s in Sweden and Germany. One meaning of the German word "nickel" is "rascal," so "kupfernickel" could be translated "false copper." Miners invented this name because nickel ore looks like copper, a more valuable metal. Sometimes the miners thought they had found copper, but they were fooled by that rascally nickel.
The quarters are all lined up.... For 10 years starting in 1999, the United States Mint 50 State Quarters Program released a quarter design for each of the 50 states. Which state first? The states were honored in age order—oldest first—according to when they ratified the Constitution or joined the Union.
One artist went from car design to coin design.... Of 390 artists who entered the contest to design a new nickel, the winner was Felix Schlag in 1938. Schlag was an auto stylist for General Motors.
An American explorer designed his own boat.... Captain Meriwether Lewis drew up the plans for the keelboat shown on the Keelboat nickel. The 55-foot keelboat was built in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It could be sailed, rowed, poled like a raft, or towed from the riverbank.
The nickel’s name is unique.... It's the only U.S. coin that is called by its metal content—even though the metal alloy in a nickel is only 25 percent nickel. The rest is copper.
The nickel’s image was a likely likeness.... The portrait on nickels made before 2004 was based on a marble bust by the French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. The sculpture was completed in 1789, while Jefferson was still alive, and is said to look just like him.
The President got the first Jefferson nickel.... The coin, issued on November 6, 1938, was presented to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
A medal was the model for a nickel.... The Peace Medal design on the back of the first nickel of 2004 is based on the back of the Peace Medal made for President Jefferson in 1801 by John Reich.
One design used to be anonymous.... When it first came out in 1938, the Jefferson nickel was the only circulating coin that did not carry the initials of the artist. That was changed in 1966, when Felix Schlag's initials were added.
There’s still nickel in the nickel.... The 2006 five-cent coin is the same weight and metal alloy as when it was first made in 1866 (except when its nickel was replaced during World War II). Although its design has changed (Shield, Liberty Head, Indian Head/Buffalo, and Jefferson types), the nickel is the circulating coin whose weight and composition have stayed the same for the longest time.
Inside and out, our change has changed!... Not only have our coin designs changed over the years, but our coin materials have changed too. The first coins were made of either gold, silver, or copper. In today's circulating coins, copper is the only one of the metals still used, and in very small amounts. We also use nickel and zinc.
Once it was hard to tell a penny from a dime... Although they are different colors, pennies and dimes are very close in size. In 1943, copper was needed for war materials, so pennies were made out of zinc-coated steel. Because the color was silvery, it was easy to mistake a penny for a dime. Fortunately, pennies were only made that way for one year.
A minister first put in his two cents... The first recorded person (of many) who saw that a religious saying deserved to be on our coins was a Reverend Watson of Pennsylvania. He wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury about it, and soon the motto "In God we trust" appeared on our two-cent coins. We no longer use two-cent coins, but we do use the faithful phrase on all the rest of our coins, as well as our paper money.
Our first commemorative coins were first seen at a World’s Fair... 1892 was the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering America. To celebrate, Congress provided money for a world's fair. Chicago hosted the "Columbian Exposition," as it was called, and two special coins were created for the event. The half dollar coin featured a bust of the explorer and sold at the fair for one dollar. The quarter dollar showed Queen Isabella of Spain, who financed the trip.
There was a lot of horsing around at the early Mint... We often rate the power of engines by "horsepower," but in the early Mint, the power came from real horses! Yes, harnessed horses were one way the machines got the energy to make coins.
We would be eating the national bird!... If Ben Franklin had had his way, the turkey would be our national bird. Maybe then the $2.50 gold coin called the "quarter eagle" would be called the "quarter turkey." Sounds more like a menu item, doesn't it? And if the astronaut who landed on the moon had said "The turkey has landed," just wouldn't be the same.
Coins, like students, can get low grades... One way coin collectors grade coins is on a scale of 1 through 70. The coin's grade depends on its condition—dull or shiny, worn or crisp, nicked and scratched or clean. Fortunately, there's no special grade a coin has to reach to pass the collectible test!
The Mint has branches – and some get pruned... The United States Mint began making coins in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which was the capital of the United States at the time. The first branches opened in Louisiana, Georgia, and North Carolina because gold was discovered nearby, but those branches are not operating today. Branches in California, Colorado, and Nevada soon followed, but the Nevada branch has also been "pruned." The newest branch is in West Point, New York.
Is your coin marked? Maybe, maybe not... Most coins made at the United States Mint get a mint mark—a letter code that shows which branch struck the coin. Philadelphia doesn't always use a mark because it was the first branch. And no marks were used in 1965 through 1967. But today, most coins except Philadelphia's have mint marks on the back.
Some coins bear a mark of distinction... Each branch of the United States Mint has a code letter called a "mint mark" to show which branch struck a coin, but not every coin has a mint mark. The Mint has used seven different mint marks for eight branches because one mark was recycled! Denver's "D" used to stand for "Dahlonega" (Georgia), a branch that closed during the Civil War.
When a coin is made, which side is the top?... You may know that coins at the United States Mint are struck with dies while lying down. But do you know whether it's the front or the back that goes in the top die? Well, there's no law about this, but usually the front (obverse) comes down from above as both sides are struck at the same time.
After 100 years, the Louisiana Purchase was set in gold.... To remember the Louisiana Purchase on its 100th anniversary, the Mint made not one but two gold dollar coins—the first commemorative gold dollars. The dollars were sold at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, held in honor of the Purchase. One of the coins had a picture of President Jefferson on the front, who was in office during the Purchase. The other showed President McKinley, who signed the law that financed the fair just before he was assassinated in 1901.
The man on the coin may be still alive!... American coins seldom show living people ever since George Washington refused to appear on a coin because kings often put themselves on coins. But we sometimes break this "rule," and the governor of Alabama was the first. In 1921, Alabama's Governor Thomas Kilby was shown next to the Governor of 100 years earlier—William Bibb—on the Alabama Centennial Half Dollar. The first President on a coin while still alive was Calvin Coolidge in 1926.
The buffalo on the nickel wasn’t always “on the level”... The first buffalo nickel (1913) showed the bison standing on a mound. The hill was soon changed to a more level plain to make more room for the words "five cents" and protect them from wear—the coin had trouble with wear throughout its 25-year life.
Black Diamond was not a “model” model!... Legend has it that James Fraser picked Black Diamond, a buffalo who lived in New York's Bronx Zoo, as the model for the nickel he was designing. You'd think BD would be honored, but he refused to pose! He kept turning to watch Fraser draw instead of standing sideways. Fraser had to get a zookeeper to catch the animal's eye while Fraser snuck around for a side view.
It takes time to “take a shine” to proof coins... How do they get proof coins so shiny? Before the images are struck on the blanks, the blanks are highly polished. And not only the blanks, but the dies that stamp them are polished too! It's easier to polish the background field on the die, where it's raised, than on the finished coin...but it still takes extra time.
You might have little round sandwiches in your pocket... Most of our coins are metal sandwiches. The outside layers are three-quarters copper and one-quarter nickel, and the "filling" is solid copper. Pennies are made of zinc coated with copper. Only nickels are one solid material—that same 75% copper/25% nickel alloy. Would you like fries with that?
We’re the Mint that makes the most!... The United States Mint makes more coins and medals by far than any other mint in the world. We have made not only our own coins, but coins for some other countries as well.
Lady Liberty saved a Civil War sea captain!... Lt. George Dixon's sweetheart gave him a $20 gold coin for luck before he left to fight in the Civil War. It seems that the coin saved his life when a bullet hit the image of Lady Liberty in his pants pocket instead of wounding his leg. He carried the coin with him until he died years later in a submarine battle. The bent coin, found recently in the sunken sub, helped to identify Lt. Dixon's nearby body.
Heads, it’s Washington; tails, it’s Washington... The New Jersey quarter is not the first coin to have the same president (Washington) on both sides. Do you know the other coin and president? The answer is in another Fun Fact.
Why Lady Liberty doesn’t get around much anymore... Just before 1909, there was an image of Lady Liberty on almost every circulating American coin. But over the following 38 years, she was gradually replaced on all of them, mostly by former presidents. Although Lady Liberty doesn't circulate anymore, she still appears on some special coins.
Lady Liberty was on her feet for 42 years... The imaginary woman who stood for liberty on our coins was always shown standing (unless only her head was shown) since she first appeared in 1794. But she took a seat in 1836 when the "Seated Liberty" silver dollars came out and showed her sitting on a rock. She probably needed the rest!
If you’re worth 25 cents, why not say so?... The quarter dollar made in 1804 was the first silver coin in the United States Mint's history to have a value on it! Yes, up until then, all silver and gold American coins were non-denominated. People had to know by their size how much they were worth. Only copper coins were required to show their denominations.
How much is an eagle worth?... The Act that created the Mint called for an "eagle" in gold, worth $10. The coin showed an eagle, of course, on the back. The Act also called for a half eagle worth $5 and even a quarter eagle worth $2.50...but the whole bird still appeared on the coins. With 1849's gold rush in California came a $20 gold coin, which quickly became known as a double eagle...with one bird on it. (The United States Mint still makes gold coins, but people usually buy them as an investment rather than for spending.)
People used to count coins without numbers... The Mint's first gold and silver coins had no denominations on them. Since their designs were the same, the only way to tell them apart was by their size. People must have been really careful when they counted their change!
This penny is almost as big as a half dollar... America's first one-cent piece, called the "large cent," was first struck in 1793, one year after the Mint opened. It was so big that it was hard to use, but it wasn't replaced by a smaller penny until 1857, more than 50 years later.
Ben Franklin helped to stop counterfeiters... In the 1700s, it was pretty easy to print money that looked real. But it was Franklin who finally hit on a good idea in 1739: He cast real leaves in lead and called it the "nature print." He kept the process so secret that no one figured out how he did it until the 1960s.
Ben Franklin made lots of money…but whose?... The design for the Continental Dollar coin that came out during the Revolutionary War was based on a paper dollar designed by Benjamin Franklin. He also found a way to keep crooks from printing phony bills—but that's another Fun Fact.
So you think you know how much a Continental Dollar is worth?... The coins we call "Continental Dollars" are not marked as dollars. Since they were not all made of silver, we guess that the silver ones were worth a dollar, the brass ones worth one pence, and the pewter...who knows?
Two different dollars were both first... Was the first American dollar coin the Continental Dollar of 1776? In that year, we were still fighting a war for independence and had no national mint. The first dollar coin from the United States Mint was made in 1794, almost 20 years later.
Who arms the Armed Forces with medals?... The Mint once produced military decorations for the nation's armed forces, including the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and the Navy Cross. Currently, by order of Congress, the Mint produces gold Congressional Medals to be presented as a symbol of national appreciation for distinguished achievements. These commissioned medals can be presented to honor individuals, institutions or events of national significance.
George Washington was our first President – but not the first President on a circulating coin.... In 1909, President Lincoln appeared on a one-cent coin and became the first real person—as well as the first American president—to have his face appear on a regular-issue American coin.
Each president gets bronzed.... Though their importance as diplomatic symbols has faded, the Mint tradition of producing a medal for each president continues today as the "Presidential Medal" series. Bronze versions of all presidential medals are still available from the Mint.
For safe-keeping, you just can’t beat Fort Knox.... To protect them from any possible danger during World War II, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights were secretly stored in protective vaults at the U.S. Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Only when Allied victory was assured in 1944 were the historic documents returned to Washington, DC.
The Mint wasn’t always part of the Treasury.... From 1799 to 1873, the Mint was an independent agency reporting directly to the President. The Mint became part of the Department of the Treasury in 1873, and remains so today.
It was much too royal for George Washington’s taste.... President Washington, if here today, might be a bit surprised to find himself on the quarter. In considering designs for the first U.S. coins, he and Congress rejected designs picturing him. Why? Too much like monarchy, they said, the very thing from which the United States had rebelled. But in 1899, Washington's image was placed on a U.S. coin—the Lafayette dollar. In 1932, Washington appeared once again on a U.S. coin—the quarter—and still does today.
We used to trade gold, silver, and copper.... A 1792 law directed American money to be made of gold, silver and copper. Gold was used in the $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.
How can you tell where a coin came from?... Mint marks show what minting facility your coins came from—"P" for Philadelphia, "D" for Denver, and "S" for San Francisco. This mark can be found to the right of the subject's face on the obverse side of each circulating coin—with the exception of the "Philadelphia" Lincoln cent, which has no mint mark.
Groove-y edges made them harder to copy.... The dollar, half-dollar, quarter, and 10-cent (dime) denominations were originally produced from precious metals (gold and silver). The reeded edges were created to make sure no one would alter the coins and try to file off the edges to retrieve some of the precious metals.
How much was in that first batch?... The Mint produced its first circulating coins—all $111.78 worth of them—in March 1793. That first batch consisted of 11,178 copper cents. Soon after, the Mint began issuing gold and silver coins as well.
They felt “safe as Fort Knox.”... Citizens of Denver took refuge in the old Denver Mint building in 1864 when they heard rumors of possible Indian attacks.
Transporting coins can turn into a real cliffhanger.... Legend has it that a shipment of dimes en route to the San Francisco Mint was attacked in southern Utah in the early 1900s. The shipment of dimes supposedly fell over a cliff. Though many people have tried to find the money, no evidence of this shipment has ever been found.
He couldn’t make light of his crime.... In 1864, James Clarke, an employee of the Denver Mint, stole cash, certificates, and a 10-pound brick of gold. He tried to escape on horseback, but the horse ran away. After getting only a few miles out of Denver, Clarke found his loot too heavy to carry and threw the 10-pound gold brick away. Clarke was caught and ordered to leave the territory.
A President had coins as a pet.... President Teddy Roosevelt said that the redesign of American coins was his "pet baby." He even personally commissioned the world-renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create new designs.
We almost ‘bet dollars to doughnuts!’... The Mint once considered producing doughnut-shaped coins. Obviously, this idea was viewed as being half-baked.
$10 billion goes a long way.... If you were lucky enough to have 10 billion Sacagawea golden dollars and you spent one every second of every day, guess how long they would last? In exactly 317 years, you would go broke!
Which Revolutionary War hero also helped make coins?... Besides being quite the skilled horseman and informant, Paul Revere was a silversmith and a contributor to our nation's coinage. Revere's metals company once supplied the Mint with rolled copper for the production of early cents.
Why is Queen Isabella famous to numismatists?... In 1893, Queen Isabella of Spain became the first non-mythical woman to be featured on ANY coin produced by the Mint—regular issue or (U.S.) commemorative.
This museum was made from gold.... The donation of $508,316 in gold, from the estate of English scientist James Smithson, was examined in the Philadelphia Mint before being used to create the Smithsonian Institution. Today, the Smithsonian Institution is the largest museum complex in the world, and includes many world-renowned museums in the nation's capital, Washington, DC - all free of charge to visit!
What coin and monument both honor another “Washington”?... The first coin to feature an African-American was the Booker T. Washington Memorial Half Dollar. It was minted from 1946 to 1951. A National Monument was designated to Washington in Hardy, Virginia, on April 5, 1956.
Which coin has a real “life-like” image?... Calvin Coolidge was the first president to have his portrait appear on a coin struck during his lifetime. The historic image was on the obverse of the 1926 Sesquicentennial of American Independence.
Thomas Jefferson liked to count by tens.... Thomas Jefferson, honored on the current U.S. nickel, was the first person to back the use of the decimal money system that we use today.
Who in the ‘New World’ was on the first U.S. Commemorative?... The first U.S. commemorative coin was produced in 1892 for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It featured Christopher Columbus, the man then credited with discovering the "New World." In 2000, another commemorative coin was produced to honor Leif Ericson, whom we now know reached the shores of the New World almost 500 years before Columbus.
Heads, it’s Lincoln; tails, it’s Lincoln.... The Lincoln cent (1959 to 2007) featured this beloved president on both sides of the coin. On the obverse, we see his face in profile; on the reverse, he is seated in the Lincoln Memorial. However, the coin does carry the initials of two different engravers.
George Washington sat here.... The first Mint building in Philadelphia was the first public building authorized by the U. S. government under the Constitution. The Mint is in its fourth building today, where it still displays the key to the first Mint, the original Mint Deed, a boot scraper, and a wooden chair that may have supported the bottoms of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. They both lived in Philadelphia when it was the nation's capital, and visited the Mint often.
Two Philadelphia Mint workers are over 90 years old.... All U.S. coins are engraved at the Philadelphia Mint, which uses Janvier transfer-engraving machines to reduce the large engraving models to actual coin size. Two of the machines still in use are over 90 years old.
Coins last a lot longer than bills.... The life expectancy of a circulating coin is 30 years, while paper money usually only lasts for 18 months. Now you see why using Golden dollars instead of dollar bills makes a lot of sense!
Where’s the world’s biggest mint?... The Philadelphia Mint, the fourth United States Mint in that city since 1792, is the world's largest mint, covering over 5 acres of ground.
“In God We Trust” was first used on coins during the Civil War.... This inscription was added to the two-cent piece of 1864. But it didn't become necessary to add it to all coins until 1955. The inscription "E Pluribus Unum," which means "One from Many" (as in one country made from many states) was first used on the gold $5 piece of 1795.
The first Director was a scientist and astronomer.... The first Mint Director, David Rittenhouse, was a famous Philadelphia scientist and astronomer who was appointed by President Washington in 1792. His first public service, in 1763, had been to settle a boundary dispute between Lord Baltimore of Maryland and the Penn Family of Pennsylvania. Mason and Dixon later confirmed his boundary lines.
The first Mint had a lot of horse power.... Horses, oxen, and men powered the Mint's coin presses before 1816. The first steam operated coin press appeared in 1836.
How old is Peter, the original Mint Eagle?... On display at the Philadelphia Mint is Peter, the bald eagle who lived at the first Mint and was befriended by its employees. After his untimely death, the workers had Peter mounted, and he has remained on display for more than 150 years.
Before the Mint Police, there was a Mint Pup.... Old records show that $3 was spent to purchase a watchdog to protect the first Mint in Philadelphia.
Half a dime wasn’t a nickel then.... The first American coins were half dimes - spelled "dismes" - which were struck in the fall of 1792. Though worth 5 cents, they contained no nickel, but were mostly silver with a trace of copper. The first circulating coins were one cent pieces made the following year.
Her best soup spoons make good pocket change.... Legend has it that Martha Washington donated the silverware from her table to make the nation's first currency.
This Native American had three different faces.... According to artist James E. Fraser, the Native American on the Indian Head and Buffalo nickels was actually a combined image created from three people: a Cheyenne named Chief Two Moons, an Iroquois named Chief John Big Tree, and a Sioux named Chief Iron Tail.
When it’s time for change?... The Secretary of the Treasury may change circulating coinage designs after 25 years. Congress, however, can authorize a change prior to 25 years.
There were copper pennies and white cents?... Yes, there were "white cents" that didn't look at all like pennies. These were the Flying Eagle one cent coins of 1856–58 and the Indian Head one cent coins of 1859-64. They were made from metal that contained 88 parts copper to 12 parts nickel, which gave them a light or white color.
One Commemorative Coin bears 5 dates... but not the date it was struck! The 1937 half-dollar struck to honor Norfolk, Virginia's founding, becoming a town, then a borough, has 1636, 1682, 1736, 1845, and 1936, but not 1937, the date the coin was made.
The bison on the Buffalo Nickel once roamed New York City... Named Black Diamond, this bison roamed "The Big Apple" around the turn of the century. And as far as we know, Black Diamond never roamed outside of the Bronx Zoo—his New York City home.
At one time, people used ant noses to buy food and clothes in China... It's true—in 600 B.C. China, people used ant noses to buy food and clothes. "Ant Nose" is one name for the copper money they used. (In case you're wondering, these coins are bigger than the name suggests!)
Honest, you’d be lucky to have a silly head! Here’s why... "Silly Head" is the popular name for a U.S. cent minted in 1839. The coin got this nickname because most people thought the picture of Miss Liberty on the obverse (front) looked silly.
Long before the 1999 quarter, there was another New Jersey coin... What was it? The "New Jersey Cent." This copper coin was minted from 1786 to 1788—more than 200 years before the New Jersey quarter became the third coin in the 50 State Quarters® Program.
You can hold a Ferris wheel in the palm of your hand... How? It's easier than you might think. So is turning cartwheels with your fingers. Both "Ferris wheel" and "cartwheel" are nicknames for silver dollars!
In 1694, copper elephants lured people to America... How? That year, England minted "Elephant Tokens" - two half pennies meant to increase interest in the colonies. On the reverse one penny said, "God Preserve New England"; the other, "God Preserve Carolina and the Lord Proprieters."
Nickels, dimes, and quarters are pickled before they’re minted... It might sound strange, but the blanks used to make these coins really are pickled. They're not soaked in vinegar, though, like the pickled cucumbers you get on hamburgers. Instead, these copper-nickel blanks are soaked in a special chemical solution. This "pickling" washes and polishes the blanks.
Rain or shine, you can visit the Philadelphia Mint. That wasn’t always true... Back in 1825, you couldn't visit when it was raining. The following is from the official rules and regulations that were adopted that year: "Visitors may be admitted by permission of an officer to see the various operations of the Mint on all working days except Saturdays and rainy days."
The whole country makes money when the Mint makes money... Why? The answer is "seigniorage"—the difference between the cost of making a coin and its face value. (For example, it costs only a few cents to make a quarter, yet its face value is 25 cents.) This profit runs the Mint and puts extra funds into the country's Treasury—funds then spent on education, health care, defense, and other services for the nation.
Five-cent coins minted from 1942 to 1945 aren’t nickels... Why? Because they don't have any nickel in them! During that time, the United States Mint used a special wartime alloy instead—copper (56%), silver (35%), and manganese (9%). That way all the saved nickel could be used in the war effort.
“Clipping” is not just an offense in football... Before they were made by machines, coins weren't perfectly round. They also didn't have reeded (grooved) edges. This made it easy for people to shave off pieces of precious metal. After "clipping" a coin this way, people then illegally spent the coin for its original value. Some people were even put to death for this crime in 17th century London.