Designing Coins

Have you noticed that not all coins look alike? A quarter always has George Washington on the obverse. But the reverse doesn’t always look the same. The Mint works with artists to capture ideas, symbols, or themes into a beautiful new coin design. The different designs can reflect American culture and history.

Artists follow these steps as they create new coins:

  1. The artist draws a sketch of the coin, called line art.
  2. Then the artist sculpts the design to make it 3-D. When the artist sculpts in clay, they use tools you might see in art class. The artist sometimes uses a computer to do a digital sculpt. Or all of the above!
  3. The finished sculpt is carved into a stamp called a die. The die will press the design onto the coin.
1. line art; 2. sculpt; 3. die (stamp)
The San Antonio Missions Quarter design on line art, a digital sculpt, and a die.

What would you put on a coin? Design your own coin using our Design Your Own Coin activity or in the Making Change game.

fun fact coin character icon

Fun Fact! An eagle was the first animal used on a U.S. coin. The coin was made in 1794.

Symbols on Coins

You might notice that some coins have similar symbols and wording, or inscriptions. Many of the symbols have roots in ancient Greece or Rome. They have been used for thousands of years to mean other things. Have you seen these symbols before? Grab a penny or dime and follow along.

symbols highlighted: union shield on penny; torch, oak branch, olive branch on dime; olive branch, stars, eagle, arrows on half dollar
The penny, dime, and half dollar have symbols that mean other things.

The penny, dime, and half dollar have symbols to represent certain ideas or things.

  • Union Shield shows stripes that represent the states joined together to support the top bar that represents the federal government
  • Torch means liberty
  • Oak branch means strength
  • Olive branch means peace
  • Arrows mean war
  • Eagle, our national bird, represents strength
  • Stars represent states

Inscriptions are the words and letters used on coins. The Mint has to put certain inscriptions on all coins.

  • “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” to identify the country that made the coin
  • “E PLURIBUS UNUM” (Latin for “out of many, one”) and “IN GOD WE TRUST,” our country’s national mottos
  • “LIBERTY,” our country’s oldest motto, which has been on all of our coins throughout history