In the 19th century there were a number of coins that flopped and were not popular with the public at large. In more modern times, the various dollar coins have never caught on with the public for making purchases. Most are either in storage or squirreled away in people’s homes.
The average American is quite familiar with the terms “cent” or “penny.” Cents or pennies have been minted since 1793 with the exception of the year of 1815 which followed the end of the War of 1812. Otherwise, one kind of a cent or another has been in circulation.
If you mention the term “half cent” to the average American, you are probably going to get a look of puzzlement. Not many people are aware of the fact that half cents were ever minted.
The first half cent was also minted in 1793 but was not popular as a circulating coin. Between the years of 1811 and 1826 no half cents were minted at all. During the 1840s, the half cent was only minted as a Proof coin. As such the half cent’s lifespan was shorter and very sporadic compare to the cent. By 1857 the half cent was phased out as a denomination altogether.
This denomination was a product of the Civil War Era. The Shield 2-cent coins was first struck in 1864 and soon outlived its usefulness within a decade.
You might be wondering why such an odd denomination was created in the first place. When the Civil War began in 1861, people in both the North and South quickly began to hoard coins, leaving a big shortage of circulating coins. Various merchant tokens and private scrip were used to fill this vacuum for small change.
Eventually the Federal Government of the North had to print paper notes of $1 and up, and even had to resort to printing fractional currency to replace the smaller-denomination coins that were being hoarded.
Congress approved the 2-cent denomination help redeem the enormous amounts of fractional currency in circulation at the time. The 2-cent coin’s lifespan was a rather short one. Its circulation strikes ended in 1872 with only Proof strikes existing in 1873.
This is another strange denomination of which two varieties were minted concurrently before being discontinued. The silver 3-cent coin was first minted in 1851 and was struck to aid in the purchase of postage stamps which were had a face value of 3 cents at the time.
The copper-nickel 3-cent coin was first minted in 1865 in an attempt to redeem the Civil War Era fractional currency still in circulation for the same reason the 2-cent coin was created. In 1873 the silver 3-cent coins were discontinued. As the fractional currency slowly disappeared from general circulation, the need for the 3-cent coins disappeared. The final mintage of any type of 3-cent coin ended in 1889.
Unlike the other odd coin denominations, there doesn’t appear to be any legitimate need or reason for this coin denomination. The origin of this strange denomination stems from Silver mining interests from Nevada with powerful connections in Congress.
These powerful mining interests didn’t hesitate to use their influence to get what they wanted; a use for their silver! They used the excuse that there was some kind of need to purchase goods priced in 10-cent increments. Of course the dime would have fulfilled this need by itself.
The 20-cent coin had a design and size that was quite similar to the Seated Liberty quarter dollar and was minted concurrently with it. Needless to say the 2-cent piece quickly confused and infuriated the public at large. It was only minted between 1875 and 1876 for a total of about two years. This coin holds the record for the shortest-lived denomination in U.S. history.
The minting of Trade Dollars in 1873 is a unique one in the history of U.S. coinage. The creation of the Trade Dollar came about for two reasons. One was the desire to create a coin for trading purposes with Asia and an attempt to make use of the flood of silver being mined in the West.
The Trade Dollar met with only limited success in competing with other trade coinage from other countries being used in Asia at the time. Ultimately, the Trade Dollar also lost its legal tender status in the U.S. in 1876. The coin was never intended to be circulated in the U.S. Today the Trade Dollar is a highly sought after coin by collectors and is being counterfeited by many Asian sources to fill this collector demand.