Little Bits of History

US Coinage Act

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 2, 2013
US currency

US currency

April 2, 1792: The Coinage Act or Mint Act is passed by the US Congress and establishes the US Mint. The Act authorized the production of the following coins, listed here with their denominations: Eagle – $10; Half Eagle – $5; Quarter Eagle – $2.50; Dollar or Unit – $1; Half Dollar – 50¢; Quarter Dollar – 25¢; Dismes – 10¢; and Half Dismes – 5¢. By May 8 of that year, an addendum permitted minting of copper coins: Cents – 1¢ and Half Cents – 0.5. Eagles, Half Eagles, and Quarter Eagles were made of gold and the others were minted in silver.

The Eagle contained 247.5 grains of pure gold which is equivalent to nearly $514 in the 2008 precious metals markets. The Dollar contained 375.25 grains of pure silver or almost $14 in 2008. Each coin was minted with appropriate impressions of “Liberty” on one side and “United States of America” on the other. Anyone could bring gold or silver to the mint and have the metal coined – free of charge. Those working at the mint had to be scrupulously honest. The penalty for fraud or embezzlement was death.

The decision to create money using 100 units per dollar was brought to fruition under Alexander Hamilton, the National Treasurer. The term “dollar” was in common usage from 1519 onward and referred to Spanish coinage. Banknotes are now also issued by the Federal Reserve and made by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Before 1928, US paper money measured 7.42 inches by 3.125 inches. Today’s bills are 6.14 inches by 2.61 inches.

US currency remains with pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. There are occasional pushes for 50¢ pieces and variously coined $1 pieces that don’t meet with much success. The $1 and $2 bills are still printed in only green and white. However, the $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills have various colors included to thwart counterfeiting. There have been larger bills in circulation in earlier times, including $500, $1,000, $5,000, $10,000, and $100,000 bills. Today, Benjamin Franklin graces the largest denomination bill – the $100. Woodrow Wilson was pictured on the $100,000, printed only as a gold certificate of Series in 1934.

“The only reason a great many American families don’t own an elephant is that they have never been offered an elephant for a dollar down and easy weekly payments.” – Mad Magazine

“Life shouldn’t be printed on dollar bills.” – Clifford Odets

“Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.” – Woody Allen

“Money often costs too much.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2010. Editor’s update: The US dollar is the official currency of the United States but it is also the official currency of El Salvador, Panama, and Ecuador and 16 other countries and six non-US territories also use it. The British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos islands also use the currency despite their being British territories. It the most used money for international transactions and is one of the world’s reserve currencies. There are many nicknames for the various monies. The most used is probably “buck” to indicate a dollar and is used both at home and abroad. “Grand” or “G” both mean $1,000 as does the word “large” or “stack”. The $100 bill is sometimes called “Benjamin” or “Benji” or “Franklin” for obvious reasons. It can also be called a “C-note” in reference to Roman numbers. The smaller bills have a variety of names probably because they are in more frequent use.

Also on this day: Giacomo Casanova – In 1725, Casanova was born.
The Sunshine State – In 1513, Juan Ponce de León discovered Florida.
Starving – In 1863, the Richmond riot took place.

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One Response

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  1. Bobby Dias said, on April 2, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Wrong- many in those other countries, including in the United Kingdom call their main denomination dollar but they are referring to a generic term that was being used hundreds of years before the settlements of North America. The United States merely copied others that were using the term dollar.


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