May 16 – Half Dime Out, Nickel In!

Posted on May 16, 2017

On this date in 1866, the U.S. Congress authorized the creation of a new coin - which meant that an older coin was no longer needed.

If you are a numismatist (one who collects and studies coins and paper money), you might already know that
the United States used to have coins such as half dimes, two-cent coins, three-cent coins, and half cents. 

These days, there is almost no way to spend a penny, let alone something as worthless as half a penny! But, back in the day, a ha'penny was a useful coin!

Get this: the Coinage Act of 1792 dictated that the U.S. would have a decimal-based coin system, with silver dollars and dimes (1/10th of a dollar), cents (1/100th of a dollar), and mills (1/1,000th of a dollar).

Can you imagine using mills?! You'd have to collect 1,000 of them just to equal one dollar!!!

Notice that there is no indication on the
1794 half dime of its worth (5 cents).

The later half dimes either indicated
"5 c" or "Half Dime":
The half dime was produced in 1792 and continued well into the 1800s. Like the dimes that were produced then, the half dime was made mostly of silver.

During Civil War times, silver and gold coins pretty much disappeared from circulation. Apparently most of the coins were hoarded in case money lost its value as money. (Even if one's nation dissolves, and its coins lose their value, a silver or gold coin could still be melted down for their precious metal.) At that time, people used merchant tokens, postage stamps, and paper money for amounts as low as three to five cents!

In order to bring back the use of coins, Congress agreed to mint coins made out of "baser" metals. That means metals that are more common, and therefore less expensive. Before the Civil War, only the copper-nickel cent was made of base metals, but starting in 1866, nickel-copper five-cent pieces, called nickels, began to be produced.

Here are some early nickels:

These days, there are no coins being produced from gold or silver. Even the golden-colored Sacajawea and Presidential dollar coins are made from "base metals."

By the way, one reason to make coins out of base metals is so that they are not worth more AS METAL than the face value of the coin itself. But the U.S. Mint has to keep redesigning coins in order to make sure that doesn't happen. 

Right now, apparently, a nickel costs 8 to 11 cents to make - about twice as much as it is worth! Pennies, too, cost more to make than they're worth - from 1.5 to 2.5 cents to make each coin.

Also on this date:

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  1. Woha, this is some collection. Loved it, I also try to have old coins with me and I do have some. Thank you for sharing such nice post with us

  2. Wow, I really like you collection, I tell you few of these coins are new to me. Going to keep this post ith me and look for these coins. Thank you for sharing this post with us