Fun Facts

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.