A History of US Currency – Part III

During the 20th century, the volume and variety of US coins in circulation expanded.  Mints began adding presidential busts to coins and, after the Great Depression, the demand for coins in circulation rose along with the population.

The Progressive-era

In 1909 Lincoln was the first former President to grace a US coin.

The mint began producing Buffalo Nickels in 1913. Designer James Frasier is said to have modeled the Buffalo after “Black Diamond” an American Bison housed in the Central Park Menagerie at the time.

The “Mercury” dime was minted from 1916 to 1945 but it is not truly a bust of Mercury. Instead, it is the Winged Liberty Head Dime.


1921 Peace Dollar is the result of legislation that mandated the minting of Silver Dollars. The Peace Dollar design commemorates the end of WWI. Yet, a second run was minted in 1934-35 (to fulfill legislative requirements) even as the first stirrings of WWII commenced in Europe.

In 1932 the mint adapted Jean-Antoine Houdon’s Roccoco Bust of George Washington for the first Washington Quarters.

In 1943 the US mint struck very few copper pennies in 1943. The copper varieties are each worth about $100,000. The Steel Penny was used in place of copper because of a metal shortage due to war. It was not long after switching from copper to zinc-clad steel pennies that the US entered into WWII.


John F. Kennedy is the youngest President to appear on US coinage. After his public assassination in 1963, Congress ordered the Kennedy half dollars in memory of the beloved President. The first coins were issued less than a year later, in January 1964.

The reverse design of the Bicentennial Quarter, Half Dollar and Dollar were chosen, after much deliberation, through a government contest for all US sculptors beginning in 1973. The winner of the Quarter Dollar contest was Jack L. Ahr. In the summer of 1974, Mr. Arh watched as his design rolled off the mint as a prototype. A year later US mints began producing the Bicentennial Quarters and continued production until 1976.

The American Silver Eagle was minted in 1986 at the Westpoint mint in New York. It was part of an international bullion plan to entice collectors into gathering bullion coins from around the world. This coin contains .999 silver and was minted until 2015. The design, however, is from the Walking Liberty that debuted in 1916 on a 90% silver and 10% copper planchet.

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