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Circulating coins of the U.S. money system include the penny, nickel, dime, quarter, half dollar, and one dollar coin. Also minted are gold, silver, or platinum bullion coins, which are bought as an investment like gold or other precious metals. Commemorative coins are also minted from time to time.

What are the Coins of the U.S. Money System?

Coins of the U.S. Money System

The minting of coins started in 1792. The Coinage Act established the Mint, which was built in Philadelphia, the nation’s capitol at that time. It was the first federal building to be constructed under the new constitution. David Rittenhouse was appointed by President George Washington as the Mint’s first director.

The Coinage Act gave the Mint permission to make coins of gold, called the Eagles, Half Eagles, and Quarter Eagles, which were $10, $5, and $2.50 respectively. Coins of silver were dollars, half dollars, quarters, dimes, and half dimes, and coins of copper were cents and half cents. The copper cent was the first coin to circulate.

The 1965 Coinage Act removed the silver from dimes and quarters and reduced the amount of silver in the quarter to 40 percent. This was done because the price of silver had gone up. It also banned silver dollar production for five years, made all U.S. coins and currency legal tender, and formed a joint commission to make decisions about legal tender.

Coins of the U.S. money system are produced by the United States Mint and sold to Federal Reserve Banks. The banks circulate the coins and withdraw them as the economy dictates. Bullion coins have been minted since 1986. They do not circulate but can be used as legal tender; most are bought for the precious metal they contain.

Commemorative coins minted in 2009 were made to honor Abraham Lincoln and Louis Braille. Special 2010 coins will commemorate disabled American veterans and the Boy Scouts of America.

Design and Composition

The first coins of the U.S. money system that were minted contained the word "liberty" with a symbol of liberty along with the year. The other side of gold and silver coins showed an eagle with the words "United States of America." Coin design has changed many times over the years. In 1909, the Lincoln cent commemorated Lincoln’s 100th birthday and, in 1932, Washington was added to the quarter, where he can still be seen. The nickel had Thomas Jefferson’s image minted on it in 1938.

Coin composition changed during the Great Depression, when the Mint stopped making gold coins. Later, when silver became expensive, it was replaced to some extent in quarters and dimes. Today, coins are made with copper inside and have an outside layer of 3/4 copper and 1/4 nickel alloy, except for the penny, which is zinc covered with copper.

The U.S. Mint

In 1793, the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia started its operations. The security at the beginning was one night watchman and a dog. Today it is the world’s largest mint, though there are three other U.S. mints located in Denver, West Point, and San Francisco. Fort Knox is part of the system as it stores bullion.

All the coin and medal engraving happens at the mint in Philadelphia, as well as making the dies and commemorative coins. In Denver, small medals are made along with coin dies, coin sets that are not circulated, and also commemorative coins. Coin sets are made in San Francisco as well as silver bullion coins (uncirculated) and commemorative coins. West Point manufactures two kinds of uncirculated coins: the silver bullion and the American Eagle gold bullion. They also make platinum bullion coins and commemorative coins.

When the Mint was destroyed by arsonists in 1833, Congress made sure the new building was fire-proof. The new building was a Greek design and completed in 1869. In 1984, the name was officially changed from the Bureau of the Mint to The United States Mint. Also in 1984, the US Mint in Denver made the ten dollar Commemorative Olympic Gold Coin. Up until then, gold coins had not been made for fifty years.