Saturday, November 05, 2011

Money money money!

A few days ago I was in Walmart and handed the cashier a gold dollar. She looked at it for a second and asked "Maybe this is a dumb question, but what is this?" If I were not an honest person I would have answered "A five dollar coin" just to see what she would have said. I guess since I work in a bank and see strange money every day I forget that most people don't. I decided to write a blog post about coins, so the first thing I did was research each coin and I actually learned quite a bit. So if you're like me and you like coins, this blog post is for you.

(Disclaimer: Please know these are not the only coins ever minted in these denominations. I'm not going very far back, only to about the beginning of the last century. So if you are still curious after you read this post, do a little research on your own. Some of the old coins are beautiful.)

First, a little vocabulary: "Obverse" is the term used to refer to the front or "head" of the coin. "Reverse" is the term used for the "tail." Alright! On to the skinny on U.S. coin money (with photos of course!)

Here we have the penny - the least of all American coins - only worth one cent. The obverse shows Abraham Lincoln. You can find them with various reverses: the Lincoln memorial, a shield, wheat stalks or pictures of Abraham Lincoln.

Here is a Nickel - worth five cents. The current US nickel sports Thomas Jefferson's face in three poses.  Here you can see the nickels obverses:

The reverse of the nickel sports several designs including Jefferson's home of Monticello, a buffalo, a sail boat signifying Lewis and Clark's travels, two hands joined to signify the Louisiana purchase, and a view of the Pacific ocean with the words "Ocean in view! Oh the Joy!" Here's a photo of the all of the nickel reverses: (can't tell you how long it took the find all these!)

If you are lucky you may find one with an Indian head on the obverse and buffalo on the reverse like this one:

Next we have the dime - worth ten cents. The face on the dime is that of Franklin D. Roosevelt. On the reverse are a torch, an olive branch and an oak branch with the words "E Pluribus Unum" (Latin for "out of many, one") The torch represents liberty. The oak branch stands for victory. The olive branch stands for peace. The dime as we know it was released at the end of WWII. Before that time you would have seen Liberty on the front of the dime and, on the reverse, a fasces (a bundle of sticks with an axe blade) juxtaposed with an olive branch to symbolize our readiness for war but our desire for peace. This is the  most current dime:

The Quarter is worth twenty-five cents. On it's obverse is the bust of George Washington. On it's reverse may be one of many images. You may find an eagle, a minute-man soldier (signifying our bicentennial anniversary), an image representing one of the fifty states, or an image representing a national park. Here are three quarters: (L to R: state quarter reverse, George Washington obverse, Eagle reverse.)

Next we have the half dollar. It worth, well, half a dollar. The half is a pretty rare coin, we don't see them at the bank often and when we have one it's usually snatched up pretty quickly. On the obverse is John F. Kennedy. On the reverse is either an image of Independence Hall or the presidential seal - an eagle holding a shield, an olive branch, and thirteen arrows and surrounded by fifty stars. Previously they have sported Benjamin Franklin with the Liberty Bell on reverse and "Walking Liberty" with an eagle on the reverse. I have a Walking Liberty in my personal collection, but I've only seen one in my lifetime. Here are photos of the "Kennedy half"

Next we have the dollar coin (silver.) On the obverse you may see the face Dwight D. Eisenhower or of Susan B. Anthony (woman's suffrage activist) or (if you find a really old one) the face of Liberty wearing a crown. Eisenhower dollars are fairly rare, and I gave my only one away recently to a friend who is a Marine for a tradition they have in the Marine Corps regarding silver dollars. (Ask a marine about it!)
Here we have a photo of the Susan B. Anthony dollar, the most common silver dollar:

There is another variety of dollar coins and these are the gold. On the obverse you will see the face of a U.S. president with the Statue of Liberty on the reverse, or of Sacajawea (a Native American woman who led Lewis and Clark through the Louisiana Purchase with a baby on her back) with one of several images on the reverse including an eagle, a native American woman gathering corn, or the Hiawatha belt surrounding five arrows. Here is an image of the Sacajawea dollar coin with the eagle reverse:

And several U.S. President gold dollars with the Liberty reverse shown at the bottom:

And there's your lesson for the day. Hope you learned something that you didn't already know about U.S. coins. Have an awesome day!

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