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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Coins - A Short History Of Coinage And Coin Collecting

Coins - A Short History Of Coinage And Coin Collecting

The coins jingling around in your pocket or weighing down your purse usually don't attract much attention. The recent introduction of Statehood quarters by the US Mint has generated interest in the history of coins. Coin collecting is on the increase. We tend to take coins for granted, but really they are an essential part of life. Before coins were invented, barter was the system predominantly used to buy and sell.Many things were used as a standard of wealth, including cattle. This is very inconvenient. Imagine having to carry a cow in your pocket to be used to buy your daily needs. Coins provided a convenient way to transport and store wealth. A brief discussion of coinage and its history follows.

The coin is defined by the Encylopedia Britannica as being a piece of metal or, rarely, of some other material (such as leather or porcelain) certified by a mark or marks upon it as being of a specific intrinsic or exchange value. An ancient people called the Lydians are credited with producing the first coins around 600 BC. The Lydian empire was in present day Turkey on a major trade route between east and west. The coins were crude, being of irregular shape and weight, but quickly became popular with merchants and the people.

King Croesus, who ruled Lydia from 560 - 546 BC authorized the first government certified coins. This meant they were guaranteed to contain a standard weight and purity of metal. This was a major step for coins aining universal acceptance for payment of goods and services.

Coin production in ancient times was laborious and time consuming. Coins were produced by hammering gold, silver, copper, or other precious metal discs, called blanks, with a bronze or iron die
Coin design among early minters was rough and unattractive. Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia from 336 - 323 BC began the practice of putting important persons or gods on coinage. Alexander's coins at first featured Greek gods and heroes. Later, he included monarchs - chiefly himself - on the coinage. Most of the basic elements of modern coin design were developed during this early period in history.

Italian craftsmen working in the late 1400's created the first main improvements in coin production. They produced more modern equipment which increased production capacity, quality, and beauty in design. More improvements to the minting process came during the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800 - 1900's.

Modern US nickles, quarters, dimes, half dollars, and dollars are produced from rolls of metal which are first fed through a machine called a blanking press which cuts discs from the metal which are the proper diameter. The blanks are then washed, heated, and edges rolled to produce the rim. The blanks are then fed through a striking press giving the coin its final design. Pennies are minted from pre-punched blanks purchased by the Mint

The first coins produced in America were minted by a gentleman named John Hull in the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1616. He was granted authority to mint coins by the General Court of the colony to help relieve a general shortage of coinage.

Before this, wampum, an Indian form of money formed from mussel shells, beaver pelts, and other commodities as well as an assortment of coinage from Spain, France, and other countries had served as money. England continously ignored the colonies pleas for coinage, so the colonies utilized their own coinage, and coinage from other countries.

The Spanish Dollar and its fractional parts circulated freely here. It was officially sanctioned by various American state and national governments until 1857. A real (pronounced ree-al) was equivalent to 12 1/2 cents. Two reals equaled a quarter dollar, giving us the expression "two bits".

Because the Spanish Dollar circulated so freely here, and not English coinage, the first American goverment made the dollar the basis of money, instead of the pound. Thomas Jefferson, a member of the House Of Representatives, in 1784 advocated the use of the dollar, and a decimal system of fractional parts. This was eventually adopted by the Continental Congress.

The first mint building wasn't built until 1792 in Philadelphia Pennslyvania. The first coin struck was a coin called a half disme. These were silver pieces, equal in value to the nickel, a later introduction. Later mints were established at Denver, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Carson City. Currently, the Department of the Treasury operates mints at Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco.

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