Written by: Eric Niedzielski
Most people are unaware of the fact that the U.S. Mint once produced a 20 cent piece. This coin was authorized by the Act of March 3, 1875, and lasted until 1878. This coin was widely confused as a quarter by the public. The coin weighed five grams, the weight of a modern nickel, and was 90 percent silver. Also, this coin was 22 millimeters in diameter while a quarter was 24.3 mm.
Mintages in 1875 were sufficient to meet public needs, but as it became less popular with the public, mintages dropped sharply. In 1876, fewer were produced and from 1877 to 1878 they were only minted as proofs for collectors. Some proofs were also made in 1875 and 1876. Despite the brief production time, 20 cent pieces could still be found in circulation in the early 1900s and was often casually used as a quarter. This denomination was minted at the Philadelphia Mint, the short lived Carson City Mint and at the San Francisco Mint.
The Coin's Design
The 20 cent piece was designed by William Barber. On the coin's obverse is a similar design to the Liberty Seated half dimes, dimes, quarters, half dollars and the dollars with Lady Liberty seated. Below her is the date, and around her are 13 stars. On the reverse is an eagle holding arrows and an olive branch which is very close to the trade dollar's design and has the inscription "United States of America" above the eagle and "Twenty Cents" below the eagle. The mintmark, if present, is between the eagle and "Twenty Cents." Unlike most Seated Liberty coins, the word "Liberty" is raised on the shield instead of being an incuse, or the design being cut into the coin.
Today, the 20 cent piece is very popular with collectors. And, as most collectors would expect with such low mintages of the coin, the20 cent piece can be very pricey. For example, the 1875 "S" 20 cent piece is about 100 dollars in Good 4, one of the lowest grades for a coin! However, according to the 2014 "Red Book" the most expensive coin of this denomination is the 1876 "CC," a mintage of only 10,000 coins, in Mint State 65 which is currently valued at $564,000. These coin prices are sure to go up in the future. The fact that these coins are little known and very rare makes them a collector's dream.
Photos courtesy of Heritage Auctions