Coins: A Fascinating History

In the age of “paying with plastic” and scanning your smartphone to buy coffee and just about everything else, it’s easy to forget whose face graces which United States coin. Do you remember which president is on a dime? How about the image on the reverse side of a penny? 

If you have an interest in selling a coin or learning more about your collection, it helps to understand a little about the rich history of coins. 

Coins are ancient history

As is often the case in ancient history, there are discrepancies of when the first coins came to be. It’s believed coins were introduced in society as a method of payment in the 5th or 6th centuries BCE. There’s a bit of uncertainty though, if the Greeks or the Lydians (modern-day Turkey) were the first of the ancient civilizations to mint coins. Numismatists (coin experts) credit the Greek island of Aegina as the first coin manufacturers. 

Ancient coins found their way to trading posts throughout Egypt, into Persia, and the island of Sicily, then made their way to Rome, India, and China. The first coins were made of electrum, an alloy of silver or gold, and used in various trade transactions. These early coins were often irregular shapes and sizes — not the perfectly round coins we know today. However, these oddly shaped pieces were minted according to a strict weight standard.

Pile of dollar coins. Dollar currency.

U.S. coin finds their way in numerous denominations

As the United States became a fledgling country, we tried our hand at minting coins for the newly formed states. These early U.S. coins tell the story of our nation from its humble beginnings when a half-cent was necessary to make change for purchases in 1793.

This smallest denomination of U.S. coins was about the size of a modern-day quarter and made of pure copper. It depicted busts of Lady Liberty in different variations from 1793-1857. The half-cent was abandoned just before the Civil War, as things became more expensive and there was no longer a need to give someone back half of a penny as change. 

It seems a bit confusing because there were so many different coin denominations during this same time period in early America. Imagine carrying all of this in your pocket just to buy dry goods or visit the local apothecary: 

  • A half-cent
  • A large cent
  • A small cent 
  • A two-cent piece
  • A silver three-cent piece
  • A nickel three-cent piece
  • A nickel
  • A half-dime
  • A dime
  • A 20-cent piece
  • A quarter
  • A half-dollar
  • A silver dollar

And this doesn’t even cover the U.S. gold coins that were also in circulation! Whew! It’s enough to make your head spin. Don’t you wonder how government officials finally narrowed it all down to the quarter, dime, nickel, and penny that we still use today?

Coin of one penny on white background

The first U.S. penny sold for $1.2 million in 2015!

If you have a coin collection at home, chances are you don’t have one of the 10 rarest U.S. pennies, known as the “Birch Cent” in your collection. But, you may have other coins that are worth quite a bit more than their designated denomination.

When you’re ready to get an honest, qualified, no-obligation appraisal for your coins, just to “see what they’re worth,” the highly experienced, knowledgeable team at Southwest Jewelry Buyers are experts at evaluating gold, silver, and other types of coins. Since 2000, Southwest Jewelry Buyers has been one of the top coin, jewelry, diamond, gold, and silver buyers in Scottsdale and the surrounding areas.

Our staff is expertly trained to confidentially appraise your coins and offer you the best price, should you decide to sell. There’s never any pressure to sell your coins; the decision is always yours. We pride ourselves on our A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau and our award-winning customer service, too. 

Ready to discover what your coin collection or a single coin might be worth? Call us to schedule a private appraisal or contact us here

Oh, and to answer the questions we posed at the beginning: Roosevelt and the “E Pluribus Unum” shield.