United States dollar coins

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Early Dollars

The first "dollar" was designed in 15th century as a replacement for the gold florin. At the time, the most productive silver mine in Europe was in Joachimsthal. The new coin was called a thaler in German, and many languages adapted the word for their own use. The Spanish milled dollar, or piece-of-eight, was familiar to the English American colonists. A silver dollar-sized coin was minted as Continental Currency in 1776, and the dollar was formally adopted as the monetary unit of the United States in 1785.[1]

Large Dollars


The earliest US dollar coins weighed 420 grains and contained .8924 fine silver. The obverse depicted a bust of Liberty and the reverse depicted an eagle surrounded by olive branches. In 1798, the eagle was replaced with a larger heraldic eagle. Minting of silver dollars began in 1794 and continued, with one brief interruption, until 1803. (An "1804" dollar was struck as a presentation piece in 1834-1835; it is very rare.)[2]

The suspension of silver coinage was lifted in 1831, and the first new silver dollars appeared in 1836. The weight of the coin was reduced in 412.5 grains, 0.900 silver. The earliest examples of these dollars depicted a seated liberty on the obverse and an eagle in flight on the reverse. The eagle was replaced with a heraldic eagle when minting of the silver dollar was greatly expanded for circulation in 1840. By 1853, the silver in the coin was worth more than the face value, and the coin was used mostly for international trade. In 1866, the motto "In God We Trust" was added to the dollar coin for the first time. The "Liberty Seated - Heraldic Eagle" dollar was minted until 1873.[3]

Silver dollar production resumed in 1878. The Morgan dollar -- so named for its designer -- depicted Liberty's head on the obverse and a heraldic eagle on the reverse. Coinage continued until the Treasury's silver bullion was depleted in 1904. A number of silver dollars were melted to replenish the bullion in 1918, and one last run of Morgan dollars were issued in 1921.[4]

In 1921, the Peace dollar was issued to commemorate the end of World War I. The obverse depicted Liberty's head, looking not unlike the Statue of Liberty. The reverse depicted an eagle watching a rising sun. Circulating coins were minted continuously until 1928, and a final run of circulating Peace dollars was minted in 1935. Examples of this coin were struck in 1965, but all were melted.[5]


A copper-nickel dollar coin with the same size as previous silver dollars was minted from 1971-1978. Some specimens were silver-clad. President Eisenhower's head was on the obverse, and the reverse showed an eagle carrying an olive branch over the moon. The bicentennial coinage (1975-1976, but dated "1776-1976") showed the Liberty Bell and the moon.[6]

Small Dollars

Susan B. Anthony

The Susan B Anthony dollar was minted from 1979 to 1981, and for an additional year in 1999. The obverse features Susan B. Anthony and the reverse features an American bald eagle flying over the Moon. The coin is a silver colored copper-nickel alloy and has a reeded edge.


The Sacagawea dollar was minted from 2000 to present. The obverse features Sacagawea and her infant son Jean Baptiste and the reverse features an American bald eagle in flight. The coin is a gold colored manganese brass with an unreeded edge.


The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005, signed into law by George W. Bush, introduced new dollar coins depicting the images of Presidents Of The United States. The first coin in this series was issued in 2007 and shows the image of George Washington, the first President of the United States of America. The obverse shows the Statue of Liberty. The coin is a gold color with a smooth edge that is struck with an inscription using a special machine.

Gold Dollars

A gold dollar, weighing 25.8 grams with a fineness of 0.900, was authorized in 1849. The obverse depicted Liberty's head and the reverse bore the phrase "1 DOLLAR YEAR OF ISSUE." In 1854, the figure on the obverse was changed to a woman in a feather headdress, giving these coins the common name "Indian Head type." Unlike silver dollars and some of the larger gold coins, the motto "In God We Trust" did not appear on this coin. Between 1873 and 1878 the gold dollar was the only dollar coin minted for domestic use in the United States. US citizens were prohibited from holding monetary gold in the United States in 1934; this was extended to monetary gold abroad in 1961. These restrictions were lifted in 1975.[7]

Trade Dollars

The Trade dollar was minted from 1873-1875 for trade with the Orient. It contained more silver than the regular dollar, and until 1876 was legal tender in the United States for up to $5.00. The law authorizing Trade dollars was repealed in 1887 and the Treasury was authorized to redeem all unmutilated Trade dollars.[8]

American Eagles

The Mint began producing silver American Eagles with a face value of $1 in 1986. The obverse is a reproduction of Weinman's Walking Liberty half dollar, and the reverse shows a simple heraldic eagle surmounted by thirteen stars. The coin contains one ounce of silver. Although it is legal tender, the silver American Eagle is not made for circulation; it is a bullion coin, intended for those who wish to hold silver or who desire the coin as a collector's piece.[9]

Current Issues

The Presidential series differs from all current U.S. coinage in this essential respect: there is no "In God We Trust" on the front or back of the coin. Instead, the motto "In God We Trust" is engraved on the tiny edge of the coin (approximately 1/16th of an inch high) where it is barely visible. The enlarged drawing of the edge inscription from the U.S. Mint makes it look more readable than it actually is:

"GOD" from "IN GOD WE TRUST" written on the edge of the 2007 Washington dollar coin (taken with microscope). Brand new coin, already showing wear.

In comparison the lettering "In God We Trust" was printed clearly on the face of the last two dollar coins, the Sacagawea and the Susan B. Anthony:

Comparison of the 2000 Sacagawea, 2007 Washington, and 1979 Susan B. Anthony dollar coins.

In March of 2007, an unknown number of the coins produced at the Philadelphia mint were misstruck, and lack the edge inscription. . Coin collectors speculate that of the 300 million produced, about 50,000 may have been misstruck. As with all misstruck coins, these have become collectors' items and are currently selling for about $50 each online.[10]


  1. Yeoman 2001, 176
  2. Yeoman 2001, 176-180
  3. Yeoman 2001, 181-183
  4. Yeoman 2001, 186
  5. Yeoman 2001, 189-90
  6. Yeoman 2001, 191-2
  7. Yeoman 2001, 186, 196
  8. Yeoman 2001, 184
  9. Yeoman 2001, 333
  10. Flaw Is Found in Some Coins of New Dollar, March 8, 2007, The New York Times (Associated Press story)


  • Yeoman, R. S. A Guide Book of United States Coins, 54th ed (2001). New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.
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