U.S. Coin Historical Questions

U.S. Historical Coin Questions

Below you will find answers to many commonly asked numismatic questions about coins minted in the United States. If you have a question that does not appear below or for more information about the American Numismatic Association, please contact us at ana@money.org or call 1-800-367-9723.

Our museum and library staff will be happy to assist you as you discover and explore the world of money. Depending upon the extent of the research necessary to answer individual questions, a research fee may be required. If a fee is required, our staff will provide you with a cost estimate before conducting research on your behalf.


  • What women have been portrayed on United States coinage?

    Susan B. Anthony, Helen Keller (Alabama Quarter) and Sacagawea are the women who have appeared on U.S. circulating coinage. However, Queen Isabella of Spain, Eleanor and Virginia Dare, Dolley Madison and Eunice Kennedy Shriver are immortalized on U.S. commemorative coins. Additionally, the Mint is producing $10 gold coins as part of the "First Spouse" series.

  • E Pluribus Unum – What does this U.S. motto mean?

    "E Pluribus Unum" is a Latin term that means "Out of Many, One." The motto first appeared on the 1795 half-eagle gold coin. An act of February 12, 1873 made the motto a requirement of law for coins minted in the U.S. thereafter.


  • When was the motto “In God We Trust” placed on U.S. coinage?

    The motto "In God We Trust" was first placed on U.S. coinage in 1864.  An era of high religious sentiment surfaced during the Civil War.  Many citizens desired that their religious beliefs be reflected on the nation's currency.  The two-cent piece was the first coin to bear the motto.


  • What does MCMLXXXVI mean on my gold coin?

    MCMLXXXVI are Roman numerals for the date 1986.  When the United States Mint began creating gold eagle bullion coins, they used Roman numerals to signify the date from 1986 to 1991.

  • What is a commemorative coin?

    Commemorative coins are those U.S. Mint issues that are produced to record and honor a person, place or event.  Commemorative coins have been issued as circulating currency or sold specifically as collector items. The Presidential $1 Program currently underway is a good example of circulating commemorative coins.


  • Why are only dead Presidents featured on U.S. coins?

    Not all U.S. circulating coins feature Presidents.  Examples of people who have appeared on U.S. circulating coins but were never President are Ben Franklin, Sacagawea and Susan B. Anthony.  The tradition that living leaders should not appear on coinage dates back to the times of Republican Rome.  Today, the law states that for the Presidential $1 Program, no coin can bear the image of a living former or current President, or of any deceased former President during the 2 -year period following the date of death of that President.  It is interesting to note that on the Sesquicentennial commemorative half dollar, the image of President Calvin Coolidge (who was very much alive at the time) appears.


  • Is my 1804 dollar authentic?

    The U.S. 1804 dollar is one of the most sought-after numismatic items and has been labeled "The King of Coins."  Collectors are aware of fifteen total specimens.  At this point, all are accounted for in known collections.  While it is unlikely, a previously unknown specimen could surface.  If you have an 1804 dollar, take it to an ANA affiliated dealer (link to Dealer Directory) for authentication.  Beware of the numerous replicas and copies.


  • Why is the 1913 Liberty Head nickel so valuable?

    The U.S. Mint produced the "Liberty Head Type" nickel, designed by Charles E. Barber, from 1883 to 1912.  In 1913 the nickel design was changed to James E. Fraser's Indian Head obverse with a Buffalo reverse.  However, sometime near the end of the production run in 1912, five coins bearing the Liberty Head design, but with a date of 1913, were produced.  Over the next four decades, the nickels were purchased and sold several times over, individually or as a set.  The most recent specimen sold for a record price of $5 million in a 2007 private transaction.  Counterfeits and altered nickels bearing the date 1913 are abundant.  Professional authentication is recommended for any Liberty Head nickel dated 1913.


  • I have a Liberty Head nickel that is older than the 1913 Liberty Head nickel. Is it worth more?

    There are several variables that determine a coin's value.  Two of the most important variables are mintage number and condition.  1913 Liberty Head nickels are so valuable because only 5 are known to exist.  Other Liberty Head nickels, though older, were standard circulating issues.  They may hold a numismatic value based on the condition of the coin.  Please see a (Local ANA Member Coin Dealer) for an evaluation.


  • Why is their letter “P” over the dome of Monticello on my nickel?

    War needs during WWII mandated several changes in U.S. coinage.  From 1942 through 1945, the composition of the Jefferson nickel was changed to what is known as the "wartime alloy" of 56 percent copper, 35 percent silver and 9 percent manganese to allow the government to use nickel as a strategic material.  Previously, the mintmark on the five cent issue was located on the reverse to the right of the building.  In 1942, the large mintmark was placed over the dome of Monticello to denote the change in composition.  The letter P (Philadelphia Mint) was also used for the first time as a mintmark.  The prewar mintmark, location and composition were resumed in 1946.


  • I have a silver dollar with a misspelling. TRUST was spelled TRVST. How valuable is it?

    The Peace dollar series was issued from 1921 through 1935.  Designer Anthony de Francisci chose to use a lettering style that was part of the Greek-Roman Revival period so popular at that time.  There is no misspelling in the design and therefore no added value.


  • Whose portraits are on current U.S. coins?

    The following is a list of the portraits on current circulating coinage and the years the design has been utilized.

       One cent    Abraham Lincoln
       (1909 to present)
       Five cents    Thomas Jefferson    (1938 to present)
       Ten cents    Franklin Roosevelt    (1946 to present)
       Quarter     George Washington    (1932 to present)
       Half dollar    John Kennedy    (1964 to present)
       Dollar     Sacagawea     (2000 to present)


    The Mint is currently producing dollars with images of past Presidents as part of the Presidential Dollar Series.


  • When did the Mint first strike coins and what were the first coins struck?

    While the mint struck coins in 1792, the first official Mint circulating issues were large-sized cents struck in 1793.


  • Why did the United States make three-cent coins?

    In 1851, the postage rate decreased from 5 cents to three cents.  To make it easier for people to purchase stamps, the government passed legislation to create the silver three-cent piece, or trime, as it was sometimes called.

  • I have a nickel with a buffalo on the back that has no date. Is this an error coin?

    More than likely, your Buffalo nickel had a date but the date has worn away through circulation.  The date on a Buffalo nickel is located on the front (obverse) of the coin on the shoulder of the Indian.  Because the date is on a high point of the design, it easily wears away.  A "dateless" nickel still retains its face value and there are companies who will purchase them for a very modest premium.  If you have nickels without a date, you may consider giving them to children.  Many youngsters have started collecting coins after receiving a Buffalo nickel.

  • Does a coin that has been soldered to a chain or has a hole punched in it have a lesser value?

    Yes, since so much of the value of a coin is determined by condition, any coin that has been altered for use as jewelry will have a reduced value. Only the rarest of coins in this condition are still considered collectible.


  • What is the highest denomination U.S. coin?

    Twenty-dollar gold pieces are the highest denomination circulating coins.  Also known as double eagles, twenty-dollar coins were minted from 1849 until 1933.  Fifty-dollar gold pieces to commemorate the Panama-Pacific exposition were minted in 1915.  Currently, the U.S. Mint offers one-ounce platinum bullion coins with a face value of $100.


  • Is it legal to own gold coins?

    Yes, from 1933 to 1974 there was a restriction on private citizens owning gold bullion without a special license. The restriction against gold was lifted effective January 1, 1975.  You are now able to own all of the gold that you can afford.