At Gold Nugget Coins, your education about your collection, whether selling or buying, is very important. The history of American numismatics provides an overview of the coins and currency of the United States and other popular countries. If at any time you have a question, please call or email us and we will do everything to answer it honestly.



“Money had a rich history in America prior to the advent of the United States’ national coinage in 1793. When coins tumbled off the presses from the first U.S. Mint the country was much more accustomed to coins from other countries. People were content to use currency, both old and new, whose values was based more on the metal content than on the issuer’s reliability. Foreign money in America diring the colonial period had become so embedded that it continued to be accepted as legal tender until discontinued by law in 1857. Coins of this era are so fundamental to American numismatics that every collection should include at least a sampling.”

— The Official Red Book, A Guide Book of United States Coins.


The Coinage Act of 1792 established the United States Mint and regulated the coinage of the United States. The act created coins in the denominations of Half Cent (1/200 of a dollar), Cent (1/100 of a dollar, or a cent), Half Dime (also known as a half disme) (five cents), Dime (also known as a disme) (10 cents), Quarter (25 cents), Half Dollar (50 cents), Dollar, Quarter Eagle ($2.50), Half Eagle ($5), and Eagle ($10). The first coin minted under the act, and therefore the first official coin of the United States, was the half disme. According to legend these first half disme coins were minted from Martha Washington’s silverware.




The Half Cent (1793 – 1857)

Liberty Cap, Head Facing Left (1793)
Liberty Cap, Head Facing Right (1794 – 1797)
Draped Bust (1800 – 1808)
Classic Head (1809 – 1836)
Braided Hair (1840 – 1857)


The Large Cent (1793 – 1857)

Flowing Hair [Chain Reverse] (1793)
Flowing Hair [Wreath Reverse] (1793)
Liberty Cap (1793 – 1796)
Draped Bust (1796 – 1807)
Classic Head (1808 – 1814)
Liberty Head (1816 – 1857)


The Small Cent (1856 – to date)

Flying Eagle (1856 – 1858)
Indian Head (1859 – 1909)
Lincoln, Wheat Ears Reverse (1909 – 1958)
Lincoln, Memorial Reverse (1959 – 2008)
Lincoln, Bicentennial (2009)
Lincoln, Shield Reverse (2010 to date)


The Two Cent piece (1864 – 1873)

The two-cent piece was produced by the Mint of the United States for circulation from 1864 to 1872 and for collectors in 1873. Designed by James B. Longacre, there were decreasing mintages each year, as other minor coins such as the nickel proved more popular.


The Three Cent piece (1851 – 1889)

Silver Three-Cent Pieces (Trimes) (1851 – 1873)
Nickel Three-Cent Pieces (1865 – 1889)
The copper-nickel three-cent piece, often called a three-cent nickel piece or three-cent nickel, was designed by US Mint Chief Engraver James B. Longacre and struck by the United States Bureau of the Mint from 1865 to 1889. It was initially popular, but its place in commerce was supplanted by the five-cent piece, or nickel.


The Nickel (1865 – to date)

Shield (1866 – 1883)
Liberty Head (1883 – 1913)
Indian Head or Buffalo (1913 – 1938)
Jefferson (1938 to date)
A nickel, in American usage, is a five-cent coin struck by the United States Mint. Composed of 75% copper and 25% nickel, the piece has been issued since 1866. The initial design of the Shield nickel was struck from 1866 until 1883, then was replaced by the Liberty Head nickel. The Buffalo nickel was introduced in 1913 as part of a drive to increase the beauty of American coinage; in 1938, the Jefferson nickel followed.


The Half Dime (1794 – 1873)

Flowing Hair (1794 – 1795)
Draped Bust (1796 – 1805)
Capped Bust (1829 – 1837)
Liberty Seated (1837 – 1873)
Some numismatists consider the denomination to be the first coin minted by the United States Mint under the Coinage Act of 1792, with production beginning on or about July 1792. However, others consider the 1792 half dime to be nothing more than a pattern coin, or ‘test piece’, and this matter continues to be subject to debate.


The Dime (1796 – to date)

Draped Bust (1796 – 1807)
Capped Bust (1809 – 1837)
Liberty Seated (1837 – 1891)
Barber or Liberty Head (1892 – 1916)
Winged Liberty or “Mercury” (1916 – 1945)
Roosevelt (1946 to date)
The dime is the smallest in diameter and is the thinnest of all U.S. coins currently minted for circulation. The word “dime” comes from the French word “dîme”, meaning “tithe” or “tenth part”, from the Latin decima [pars].


The Twenty Cent piece (1875 – 1878)

Liberty Seated (1875 – 1878)
The American twenty-cent piece is a coin struck from 1875 to 1878, but only for collectors in the final two years. Proposed by Nevada Senator John P. Jones, it proved a failure due to confusion with the quarter, to which it was close in both size and value


The Quarter Dollar (1796 – to date)

Draped Bust (1796 – 1807)
Capped Bust (1815 – 1838)
Liberty Seated (1838 – 1891)
Barber or Liberty Head (1892 – 1916)
Standing Liberty (1916 – 1930)
Washington (1932 – to date)
The quarter, short for quarter dollar, is a United States coin worth 25 cents, one-fourth of a dollar, and has been produced on and off since 1796, and consistently from 1831 onward. The choice of one-quarter as a denomination – as opposed to the one-fifth more common elsewhere-originated with the practice of dividing Spanish milled dollars into eight wedge-shaped segments. At one time “two bits” (that is, two “pieces of eight”) was a common nickname for a quarter.


The Fifty Cent piece or Half Dollar (1796 – to date)

Draped Bust (1796 – 1807)
Capped Bust, Lettered Edge (1807 – 1836)
Capped Bust, Reeded Edge (1836 – 1839)
Liberty Seated (1839 – 1891)
Barber or Liberty Head (1892 – 1915)
Liberty Walking (1916 – 1947)
Franklin (1948 – 1963)
Kennedy (1964 – to date)
The United States half dollar coin, sometimes referred to as the fifty-cent piece or simply the half, are rarely used today, but have a long history of heavy use alongside other denominations of coinage. They have faded out of general circulation for many reasons.


The Dollar (1794 – to date)Flowing Hair (1794 – 1795)

Draped Bust (1795 – 1804)
1804 Dollar
Gobrecht Dollars (1836 – 1839)
Liberty Seated (1840 – 1873)
Trade Dollars (1873 – 1885)
Morgan (1878 – 1921)
Peace (1921 – 1935)
Eisenhower (1971 – 1978)
Susan B. Anthony (1979 – 1999)
Sacagawea (2000 – 2008)
Native American (2009 – to date)
Presidential (2007 – 2016)
By the time of the American Revolution, Spanish dollars had gained significance because they backed paper money authorized by the individual colonies and the Continental Congress. Common in the Thirteen Colonies, Spanish dollars were even legal tender in one colony, Virginia. On April 2, 1792, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton reported to Congress the precise amount of silver found in Spanish dollar coins in common use in the states. As a result, the United States dollar was defined as a unit of pure silver weighing 416 grains of standard silver (standard silver being defined as 1,485 parts fine silver to 179 parts alloy). Silver was mostly removed from U.S. coinage by 1965.


The Gold Dollar (1849 – 1889)

Liberty Head (1849 – 1854)
Indian Princess Head, Small Head (1854 – 1856)
Indian Princess Head, Large Head (1856 – 1889)
The gold dollar or gold one-dollar piece was a coin struck as a regular issue by the United States Bureau of the Mint from 1849 to 1889. The coin had three types over its lifetime, all designed by Mint Chief Engraver James B. Longacre. The Type 1 issue had the smallest diameter of any United States coin ever minted.


Quarter Eagles [$2.50] (1796 – 1929)

Capped Bust to Right (1796 – 1807)
Capped Bust to Left, Large Size (1808)
Capped Bust to Left, Large Diameter (1821 – 1827)
Capped Bust to Left, Reduced Diameter (1829 – 1834)
Liberty Head (1840 – 1907)
CAL. Quarter Eagle (1848)
Indian Head (1908 – 1929)


Three Dollar Gold Pieces (1854 – 1889)

Indian Princess Head (1854 – 1889)
In 1851, Congress had authorized a silver three-cent piece so that postage stamps of that value could be purchased without using the widely disliked copper cents. Two years later, a bill was passed which authorized a three-dollar coin. By some accounts, the coin was created so larger quantities of stamps could be purchased. Longacre, in designing the piece, sought to make it as different as possible from the quarter eagle or $2.50 piece, striking it on a thinner planchet and using a distinctive design.


The Four Dollar Gold Piece – “Stella” (1879 – 1880)

The Stella was a pattern coin produced to explore the possibility of joining the Latin Monetary Union (LMU); these patterns were produced in 1879 and 1880 at the urging of John A. Kasson, a former chairman of the United States House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures. The Stella was meant to contain a quantity of precious metal similar to that of the standard LMU gold piece, the twenty-franc Napoleon minted in France, Switzerland, and other LMU countries.


Half Eagles [$5] (1795 – 1929)

Capped Bust to Right (1795 – 1807)
Capped Bust to Left (1807 – 1812)
Capped Head to Left (1823 – 1834)
Classic Head, No Motto (1834 – 1838)
Liberty Head (1839 – 1908)
Indian Head (1908 – 1929)
The $5 denomination has the distinction of being the only denomination for which coins were minted at eight US mints. Prior to 1838 all half eagles were minted in Philadelphia because there were no other operating mints. In 1838, the Charlotte Mint and the Dahlonega Mint produced half eagles of the Coronet type in their first years of operation, and would continue to mint half eagles until 1861, their last year of operation. The New Orleans Mint minted half eagles from 1840 to 1861. The San Francisco Mint first produced half eagles in 1854, its first year of operation, as did Carson City in 1870, and Denver in 1906.


Eagles (1795 – 1933)

Capped Bust to Right (1795 – 1804)
Liberty Head, no motto above eagle (1838 – 1866)
Liberty Head, motto above eagle (1866 – 1907)
Indian Head (1907 – 1933)
The eagle is a base-unit of denomination issued only for gold coinage by the United States Mint based on the original values designated by the Coinage Act of 1792. It has been obsolete as a circulating denomination since 1933.


Double Eagles (1849 – 1933)

Liberty Head (1849 – 1907)
Saint-Gaudens (1907 – 1933)
The Saint-Gaudens double eagle is named for the designer, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of the premier sculptors in American history. Theodore Roosevelt imposed upon him in his last few years to redesign the nation’s coinage at the beginning of the 20th century. Saint-Gaudens’ work on the high-relief $20 gold piece is considered to be one of the most extraordinary pieces of art on any American coin.


Commemorative Coins

Commemorative coins have a distinct design to honor the occasion on which they were issued. Many such coins serve as collectors items only, although some countries also issue commemorative coins for regular circulation. Vast numbers of thematic coins are issued, highlighting ancient monuments or sites, historical personalities, endangered species etc.


Proof Sets – United States Mint

Proof coins are special early samples of a coin issue, historically made for checking the dies and for archival purposes, but nowadays often struck in greater numbers specially for coin collectors. Nearly all countries have issued proof coinage. Preparation of a proof striking usually involves polishing of the dies. They can usually be distinguished from normal circulation coins by their sharper rims and design, as well as much smoother “fields” – the blank areas not part of the coin’s design.


Uncirculated (“Mint”) Sets – United States Mint

Starting in 1947 the U.S. mint began producing “mint sets”, and because of the terms used, there is some confusion over the difference between these and proof sets. These are uncirculated coins that have been specially packaged, and are generally neither as expensive nor as valuable as proofs.



Colonial Currency

There were three general types of money in the colonies of British America: specie (coins), paper money and commodity money. One by one, colonies began to issue their own paper money to serve as a convenient medium of exchange. The paper bills issued by the colonies were known as “bills of credit.” When the American Revolutionary War began in 1775, all of the rebel colonies, soon to be independent states, issued paper money to pay for military expenses.


Continental Currency

After the American Revolutionary War began in 1775, the Continental Congress began issuing paper money known as Continental currency, or Continentals. Continental currency was denominated in dollars from one-sixth of a dollar to $80, including many odd denominations in between. Continental currency depreciated badly during the war, giving rise to the famous phrase “not worth a continental”. A primary problem was that monetary policy was not coordinated between Congress and the states, which continued to issue bills of credit. Another problem was that the British successfully waged economic warfare by counterfeiting Continentals on a large scale. After the collapse of Continental currency, Congress appointed Robert Morris to be Superintendent of Finance of the United States. Morris advocated the creation of the first financial institution chartered by the United States, the Bank of North America, in 1782. The bank was funded in part by specie loaned to the United States by France.


Foreign Coins

DIA Gold Nugget Coins specializes in United States currency and coins. However, a large number of foreign silver and gold collectibles are also available. Please call or email with specific inquiries.

** Images courtesy of PCGS and Wikipedia

Historical perspective courtesy of Wikipedia.