US Coins 1850-1909
Starting in the early 1850s, as the United States Mint began to supply all of the nation’s coinage needs, a series of new coin designs and new denominations were introduced. Some of these were short-lived, such as the Flying Eagle cent or the 20-cent piece, while others became the standard for future U.S. coins, like the nickel 5-cent piece, which replaced the older silver half dime.

Legends beyond just “United States of America” and “Liberty” became common, including “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of Many, One) and, in 1864, “In God We Trust.” Variations from the strict use of Liberty appeared — starting with the silver 3-cent piece (1851–1873) and continuing with the two cent (1864–1873) and the nickel five cent (1866–1883). The vast majority of coins continued to use Lady Liberty, though often in more creative appearances such as the Indian head cent (1859–1909). Eagles changed in appearance as well, becoming more realistic and active in their poses.

A major feature of this period was the political fight between gold and silver interests over which metal was to be the foundation of the dollar. With the discoveries of gold and silver in western North America and Australia, the relative prices of gold and silver began to shift rapidly — at first in favor of silver in the 1850s with the California Gold Rush, and then in the 1870s in favor of gold as the Comstock lode and other silver mines were discovered. Naturally, producers of gold and silver wanted the U.S. government to produce more gold or silver coins — creating more demand and keep bullion prices up. By the end of the century, gold won out and the U.S. dollar was firmly backed by gold until 1973.


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