Posted by: distributorcap | February 18, 2009

Brother can you spare a…..

America is often mocked for having some of the ugliest money (greenbacks are not that pretty). If you look at Canadian, European, Swedish or some other countries – they have taken great pride in the design of their their currency. Ours is pretty bland, but until recently Hamilton, Jackson, Grant and Franklin were a welcome sight just about everywhere on earth. Not so much anymore – the Yuan with a picture of that uber-capitalist Mao Tse-Tsung is much more appreciated these days.

Where America did/does shine was/is in their design of coins. Some of the most beautiful designs have appeared on US coins – like the St. Gaudens $20 gold piece.

Since gold coins are a collector’s item into itself, I decided to take a look a coins for general circulation (concentrating on 20th century coinage).


The Indian Head penny was first issued in 1859, replacing the 3-year old Flying Eagle Cent. The “Indian” is actually not an Indian, but Liberty wearing a Native American headdress. The coin was first made of 88% copper and 12% nickel. In 1864, the composition was changed to 95% copper and 5% zinc/tin (this metal combination is more commonly known as bronze). The Indian Head cent was minted until 1909. The rarest Indian Head cent was minted in 1877. Over 1.8 billion Indian cents were minted. Indian Head cents disappeared from circulation soon after the issuance of the Lincoln cent. The Liberty dressed as an Indian-Head cent would never pass the PC test today.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the design on the one-cent coin was changed to an image of the 16th President. This coin was the first in the US to have an image of a real person. The reverse side was originally two stalks of wheat. In 1959 (the sesquicentennial or 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth), the reverse was changed to represent the Lincoln Memorial. It is very difficult to find wheat cents in circulation today.

2009 is the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. To honor him, Congress signed a law in 2005 a change in the design, In 2009, there will be four different reverse on the Lincoln penny showing different scenes from his life – his childhood in Kentucky, teen years in Indiana, professional life in Illinois and his presidency in D.C. In 2010, the Memorial reverse will be dropped and replaced with another design.

The composition of Lincoln cents has changed over the years. They were originally bronze (95% copper, 5% zinc/tin). During World War II, copper was need for the war effort – especially for shell casings. The Treasury Department changed the composition of the penny to zinc coated steel for one year – 1943. The pennies looked steel/gray – if you have one, put a magnet right over it. In 1962, tin was removed from the metal base. With copper getting expensive (the metal in the penny was worth more than the face value of the coin), the Treasury decreased the weight of the coin by 20% (or 0.5 grams) and changed the composition to 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper. The most valuable (non-error) coin in the series is the 1909 minted in San Francisco with the designer’s initials.

In 2000, nearly 9 billion Lincoln pennies were minted in Denver. There is often talk of dropping the penny from mintage. No one bothers to even pick a penny off the street anymore, not even the homeless in Union Square.

Two-Cent coins were minted from 1864-1873

Three-Cent coins were minted from 1851-1889


The Liberty Head nickel was the nation’s second design for a 5-cent piece, replacing the Shield nickel. It was first issued in 1883. The reverse was the letter V – without the word cents. Some of these coins were gold-plated and passed for $5 gold pieces. The word cents was quickly added. The Liberty nickel composition was 75% copper and 25% nickel. The final year of issuance was 1912. (5 coins were minted in 1913, needless to say they are quite rare). The rarest regularly minted date is 1885.

In 1913, the design of the nickel was switched to the Buffalo or Indian Head. Three different models were used for the Indian, one for the Buffalo (I guess the buffalo could sit still longer). The metal composition was the same as the Liberty nickel. The design of the coin was problematic. The high relief of the mintage year meant the date became quickly obliterated through wear. This is why so many Buffalo nickels do not have a date. The final year for the Buffalo nickel was 1938. The most valuable (non-error) coin in the series is the 1913 minted in San Francisco. Over 1.2 billion Buffalo nickels were minted. The odds of finding a Buffalo nickel in circulation today are about 25,000 to 1.

Thomas Jefferson found his face on the nickel beginning in 1938. The reverse features Jefferson’s home – Monticello (the estate, not the race track). The composition of the Jefferson nickel was the same as the Buffalo nickel – 75% cooper/25% nickel.

From 1942 through 1945, nickel was needed in the war effort and the metal mix was changed to 56% cooper, 35% silver and 9% manganese.

In 2003, the Mint wanted to change the nickel reverse to an Indian and bald eagle. By law, the Mint was permitted to change coinage designs after 25 years in circulation without passage of any special Congressional authorization. Congressasshole Eric Cantor of Virginia objected, as he was concerned about the dropping of Monticello from the nickel (Monticello is of course in Virginia). Cantor helped push through the American 5-Cent Coin Design Continuity Act (aka Keep Monticello on the Nickel Act). This new law modified the current law by eliminating the Mint’s right to change the nickel and requiring the return of Monticello to the reverse design by 2006.

Hamstrung by Cantor, the Mint changed its plans and issued a re-design of the nickel in 2004 depicting the Westward expansion of the country. Two designs were minted in 2004 – both with Lewis & Clark. In 2005, Thomas Jefferson received a make-over and also began to face right. Two more reverses were placed into circulation that year – one with the bison, and the other with the Pacific Ocean. Monticello returned to the reverse in 2006. But Thomas was no facing forward, the first time any President was actually looking at people.

Jefferson nickels are among the easiest sets to collect and complete – as no non-error coins are that rare. Collecting a complete set of Republican assholes is also quite easy these days, as Cantor is still in Congress and still a major one.


The dime that ushered in the 20th century was the Barber dime – designed by Charles E. Barber. The 10-cent piece was first minted in 1892 and ended in 1916. The obverse is liberty with a wreath (The quarter and half-dollar of that era have the exact same design). The reverse is a wreath.

The composition of the coin is 90% silver and 10% copper. The rarest date is the 1894 coin, minted in San Francisco – of which 9 are known to exist. The rarest circulated date is the New Orleans minted 1895-O.

In 1916, the Mercury dime (as it is commonly known as) was first minted. The image on the obverse is not the messenger god Mercury – but Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap. It had the same composition as the Barber dime. This coin is considered one of the most beautiful US coins designed. The most valuable date is the 1916 coin minted in Denver.

Soon after Frankin Roosevelt died in April 1945, legislation was introduced to replace the Mercury dime with an image of Roosevelt. Roosevelt had been involved with the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. The public was urged to send a dime to the Foundation – and by 1945, it was commonly know as the March of Dimes.

The obverse shows FDR facing left. The dime’s reverse is a torch, olive branch and oak branch (representing liberty, peace and victory). The designer of the coin – John Sinnock placed his initials “JS” near the base of Roosevelt’s neck.

Almost immediately after the coin’s release in 1946, rumors started that the JS letters on the dime were really the initials of Joseph Stalin and the US Mint was actually infiltrated by communist spies (this is America folks, land of complete stupidity).

In 1965, all silver was dropped from regularly circulated US coins – and the composition of the dime switched to 75% cooper and 25% nickel. Almost immediately after the law was passed, all silver dimes (and quarters and halves) were hoarded and disappeared from circulation.

In 2003, conservative ass-kissers (I am sure including Eric Cantor) in Congress wanted to remove Roosevelt’s image from the dime and replace it with their sainted Ronald Reagan – even though he was still alive. No regularly circulated US coin or currency has ever been issued with live person. Mark Souder (R-Indiana, where else?) introduced legislation to push this through. Nancy Reagan was actually one of the more vocal critics of this legislation – she wanted to keep Roosevelt, and she also knew that this would be as good as the kiss of death. After Reagan died in 2004, there was only token moves to re-instate this bill. However there is a major push to revive Reagan and run him again.

One day we are going to see a Reagan coin in circulation (not a commemorative) – I just know it. We are that stupid.

Silver dimes (or any silver coins) rarely turn up in circulation. However, the Roosevelt dime set is an easy one to complete, with virtually no rare non-error coins.

Next week – Quarter, Half, Dollar


  1. Hi Cap;How about the Chimpy coin?It can have a jack ass on one side and a monkey on the other :)People will pay more than the face value if they dared mint it.

  2. That’s neat… except for Classy Cantor and Ronnie Raygunz.. I have yet to figure out what the hell he did that was so worthy. I sure don’t remember anything. But that was neat .. interesting history our coins have I think. I thought they were issuing some new pennies this year or sometime soon. Thanks for posting that.

  3. How about it starts as a nickel but after 5 years it trickles down to a penny?

  4. Fascinating as usual.

  5. Put Reagan on the three dollar bill.

  6. i read your post and thought of all the coins i collected when i worked at a bank (no free samples unfortunately). i have tons of wheat pennies, and for some reason, i saved a bunch of nickels from the 30’s and 40’s. only one buffalo nickel, and i can’t read the date. a few susan b anthony dollars and some eisenhower silver dollars. i also have some old silver certificates and 2 dollar bills. i haven’t even thought of them in years, but, after i read this, i took them out to see what i had.

  7. Safe to say you are always throwing your .02 cents in !

  8. I think they should Put Reagan and Bush on the same coin- a penny made from dried bullshit and spray painted gold.

  9. I collected coins for a while when I was a kid. There was a twenty cent piece for a couple years in the 1870s. I never saw one, but I read about them.

  10. Wowsers! I used to be an avid Numistamist, ah, Numerostist, Numisnamatist….ah, coin collector. My favorite was the Walking Liberty Half.I await the next excellent installment.

  11. Very cool. You know those coin-operated crane games? Sometimes the kids get old coins – Buffalo nickels, for example – as the prizes.

  12. I think some of the commonwealth countries in the south Pacific have the most interesting coins. From my 3 week trip there, I still have a Cook Islands $3 bill, triangular 2 dollar coin and oddly shaped 1 dollar coin with a picture of their uhhh… shall we say, well endowed god, that appears everywhere. I also like the Australian 20 cent pieces with the platypus on them. I found the Australian $2 coins annoying because they were so small you could lose them too easily.One thing that seems to make American currency different than others is that they tend to have symbols and monuments on the tails side, rather than scenery. I liked the $2 bill’s signing of the Declaration of Independence, because it departed from that scheme.

  13. Ahhh, numismatics, near and dear to my heart! When I was a kid I used to collect coins and I would hang out at several places around town that sold collectable money. I’d save my allowance to get ones I wanted! My dad picked up a Seated Liberty half dollar once at a gun or coin show. Some creative individual had redone Lady Liberty so she was nude and sitting on a chamber pot! When Dad passed away a couple of years ago and Mom asked me which coins I wanted, I told her “I only want two… his 1927 St. Gaudens gold Double Eagle (Google-image that one, it’s gorgeous!!!)… and Lady Liberty on the pot!I have always liked the Buffalo Nickels. The “steel pennies” from the early 40’s were always favorites as well. The move to put Reagan on the dime was sick. How symbolic that would have been… Reagan, the guy who wanted to roll back the New Deal more than anyone? Hey, let’s put Reagan on the coin that currently honors FDR, the man who gave us the New Deal! If we can’t actually get rid of the New Deal, maybe we can at least get rid of FDR’s image. What a buncha whackos!!! 8-)At least they haven’t tried to have Reagan buried in the empty tomb beneath the Capitol Dome (originally intended for George Washington, I think), and Ronnie hasn’t made it onto Mount Rushmore yet. Aieeee…

  14. Karen Zipdrive says it best.

  15. “However there is a major push to revive Reagan and run him again.”lol

  16. Cool! I love all our coins!

  17. Ok, in general, when you do these great posts that are topically educational in nature, do youa) Know most of it off the top of your head and only brush up on a few facts for accuracy orb) Do you pick a topic, then research it to flesh it out?Because if it is a), I hate you for your ability to do that;)

  18. the new 2009 penny design makes me wonder, with inflation and all, is a penny still worth a penny?

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