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United States Coins Past and Present

Ne Shilling
Native American Wampum

When the European colonists arrived on the northern portion of the America's, they found friendly Native Americans using "Wampum" as an article of adornment and a medium of exchange.

Wampum was made from the inner portion of shells gathered on the seashore of New England. Early settlers finding that the fur trade with the Indians could be carries on with wampum, readily adopted it as money. In 1637 several of the colonies passed laws fixing the value of wampum beads at so many to a penny. In Connecticut it was four white beads and in Massachusetts the rate was six to the penny.

The first coins used along the Atlantic seacoast in America prior to 1652 were only of European mintage, principally English, French, Spanish and Dutch coins. The supply of coins in America was pitifully insufficient for the needs of commerce and hampered the trade of the colonists.

1652 NE Three Pence Six Pence and Shilling

New England Colonial Coins (1652-1653)

The first American coins were minted in defiance of the laws of England. In 1652 a New England General Court ordered the first metallic coins made. Silver threepence, sixpences and shillings were minted in Boston by John Hull and the colony of Massachusetts. They were crude, irregular, round coins with the inscription "NE" for New England on the obverse and the numerals III, VI and XII on the reverse. Their severe plainness, lack of artistic quality and counterfeiting resulted in the NE coinage to be replaced in 1653.

Willow Tree Shilling

Willow Tree Shilling (1653-1660)

Oak Tree Shilling

Oak Tree Shilling (1660-1667)

Pine Tree Shilling

Pine Tree Shilling (1667-1682)

The NE coins were replaced by the Willow Tree Shilling (1653-1660), Oak Tree Shilling (1660-1667) and Pine Tree Shilling (1667-1682). All had the date 1652 and were produced as a threepence, sixpence and shilling. An odd spelling of Massachusetts borders the tree designs that gave the coins their name. This early American coin was minted in Boston from melted down foreign silver mostly Spanish. Very few were produced, and they did little to alleviate the coin shortage. This coinage was abandoned in 1682.

Other mints were established in the colonies of New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont and Maryland and produced colonial issues. In addition coins of special design for colonial circulation were minted in England and France. All these coins were exported to the Carolinas, New York, Virginia and Louisiana. There were many different types and varieties of these colonial coins. Despite all this effort the supply of hard money was always inadequate during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Ye Olde Mint

The Fugio Cent was the first coin issued by the United States

The first legally authorized coin of the government of the United States of America was the copper cent of the old Confederation minted in 1887 and bearing the motto "Mind Your Business", attributed to Benjamin Franklin. This coin is known as the Fugio Cent or the Franklin Cent. The Fugio (meaning time flies) cent has a sundial and a thirteen link chain symbolizing the original colonies with the legend UNITED STATES...WE ARE ONE.

Ye Olde Mint

The first United States Mint established by Congress in 1792

The free development of national commerce and expansion of trade did not begin until the shortage of coins was relieved by the establishment of the United States Mint in 1792 at Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Mint was the first Federal building erected under the Constitution. David Rittenhouse was appointed first Director of the Mint by President Washington. The first coins produced by the U. S. mint were cents and half cents.

Virtually all early U. S. coins followed the same general design. The obverse the head or figure of a women standing for liberty. However, Liberty was frequently redesigned. Some coins show her standing, some sitting and some show only her head. The reverse had the American eagle or an olive wreath signifying peace. The eagle became less fierce and then more fierce. This pattern remained constant through the 19th Century and into the 20th. Beginning in 1909 portraits of past presidents replaced Lady Liberty. Minor changes in lettering occurred almost yearly. Coins were issued off and on at more than a half dozen mints named after the cities where they were located. All except Philadelphia regularly stamped their coins with an initial.

  • D for Denver, Colorado (1906 to date)
  • S for San Francisco, California
  • O for New Orleans, Louisiana
  • C for Charlotte, North Carolina
  • CC Carson City, Nevada
  • D for Dahlonega, Georgia (1838-1861)
  • New Orleans Mint

    New Orleans Mint 1838-1861 & 1879-1909
    Designated a National Historic Landmark

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