Coin History and Future of US Coins

Coin offerings on rocks in front of an ancient stone spiritual site.
Coins in the Ancient Custom of Offering

Coin history a fun topic because coins are the lifeblood of the vending industry.  Coins have more durability and a longer lifespan than paper money.  Plus, they are much more difficult to counterfeit.  Paper money, bills offer convenience in carrying that tends to make them more popular.

Since the development of coins, commerce has relied on the value of the metal in coins.  The value was based upon the weight and purity.  In the colonizing of the Americas, the European powers were hesitant to send over their gold and silver.  Copper and cheap alloy coins were the most common coins. 

Colonial Coin History

France “recycled” old douzaine coins in 1640, 1672, and again in 1692 for the colonies.  Hammered coins composed of billon (an alloy of silver and copper) were renewed by counter stamping them with a fleur-de-lys punch.  The impact altered the shape of the coins too by creating an uncommon concave coin.

The Dutch Lion dollars were favored for foreign trade and used in their colonies.  These thin silver planchets did not completely fill the die basins, were often weakly struck.  This made them easily wear down.  Coins so worn so that the design was no longer distinguishable were often referred to as “dog dollars.”

Because of their limited reserves, British law prohibited the export of regal gold and silver coins.  Though some gold and silver did arrive via commerce.  Official payments were normally made with copper coins or foreign coins.

A prime example of this was the British government payment for the colonists’ help against the French in the French and Indian Wars.  The manifest of the ship Mermaid recorded the payment as 207 chests of milled Spanish pistareens and eight chests of pillar two reales, which was recorded as “pillar pistereens,” along with many British coppers.

It was the Spanish gold and silver obtained from the conquest of central and south America that fueled the commerce of the new world.  Antonio de Mendoza as the first viceroy in the Americas arrived in Mexico in 1535 carrying a royal decree authorizing the immediate establishment of a mint.

Spanish dollars were so prevalent that 1750 Massachusetts paper currency was redeemed in milled Spanish silver coin.  Maryland colonial paper currency from 1767-80 was backed by Spanish milled coins and denominated in Spanish dollars rather than English pounds. 

Read about the first US coins.

US Coins

Foreign coins were made legal tender in the United States by a 1793 Act.  This Act stood until The Coinage Act of 1857 repealed prior legal tender laws concerning foreign coinage.

The US currently has five different coins in circulation; 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 cents, and $1 coins.  Older coins are often kept by collectors but other than a few rare cases, all US coins remain valid currency.  The ability of vending machines to accommodate various coins is always a concern.

Look at the coin history of just the $1 coins.  The US treasury has issued at least a dozen different $1 coins in its history.  Modern $1 coins are not popular in the US.  The latest $1 coin, the Sacagawea dollar, has not been minted since 2011.  Many other nations use coins rather than paper money for smaller currencies because of the cost savings.  Many nations, which use US currency for their own currency, use the $1 US coins more widely.

  • The Eisenhower dollar produced in the 1970s was unpopular due to the large size and weight. 
  • The Susan B Anthony dollar suffered from being too easily confused with quarters.  It never gained popularity. 
  • The Sacagawea dollar took a lesson from the Anthony dollar problems.  The distinctive bronze color is recognizable.  Still, it never gained popularity either.

Coins Future?

The advent of reliable scanner technology has changed the coin dependency of the vending machine industry.  Providing customers the ability to use bills makes vending machine sales much easier.  Credit and debit cards provide a new level of convenience that is changing the industry. 

A coin shortage during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic had some stores giving change in cashless forms like on consumer reward cards.  The metal required to make many coins already exceeds their value.  Some speculate these factors are leading to the end of coins.  Is this the first step towards a cashless society?  What does that mean for our industry? 

This will have to be a topic for a future blog, but I would love to hear your ideas in the comments.

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