The coinage of the United States tell some truly fascinating stories about America’s heritage. To hold a US coin in the palm of your hand can feel as though you are literally holding a piece of history.

I have always been intrigued by American coins, but there are so many that it is a difficult decision knowing which ones you should own.

But, after some research, I have discovered what I believe to be some of the most interesting coins from the past 120 years of US numismatic history.

While they aren’t necessarily the best coins out there, they are certainly the ones with the most intriguing stories behind them…

6 - Six of the most collectable US coins ever issued

The Columbian Half Dollar was the first ever commemorative coin issued in the United States.

1. Columbian Half Dollar (1892-1893)
The 1892 Columbian Half Dollar was the first ever commemorative coin issued in the United States. It was intended to raise money to fund the World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893 – each half dollar was sold with a 50 cent surcharge which went towards the project. The design pays tribute to the 400th Anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World in 1492.

2 - Six of the most collectable US coins ever issued

The Walking liberty Half Dollar is often referred to as the most beautiful circulating American coin.

2. Walking Liberty Half Dollar (1916-1947)
Struck from 1916 until 1947, the Walking Liberty Half Dollar is sometimes referred to as the most beautiful circulating American coin. Its design, by Adolph A. Weinman, owes more to sculpture than functionality, and was critically acclaimed upon its issue. In respect of its status, the design has been reprised as the obverse of the current ‘Eagle’ series of Silver Bullion coins, making it one of the most recognisable designs in American                  numismatic history.

5 - Six of the most collectable US coins ever issued

The Peace Dollar was proposed as a lasting commemoration after the tragedies of World War I.

3. Peace Dollar (1921-1935)
The Peace Dollar was proposed as a lasting commemoration after the tragedies of World War I. It was also the last ever Silver US coin struck for circulation. Featuring an eagle clutching an olive branch above the word ‘peace’ on the reverse, the coin was not without controversy. Word escaped that the design was to include a broken sword next to the eagle, but this was seen as a symbol of defeat. Public outcry stopped the design, but the dies had already been finished. Remarkably, amendments were carried out so skilfully that for 85 years it remained a secret that the sword had ever been engraved onto the coin.

1 - Six of the most collectable US coins ever issued

One of the most poignant American coins, commissioned just months after Kennedy’s assassination.

4. Kennedy Half Dollar (1964-Present)
One of the most poignant American coins, this Half Dollar was commissioned just months after Kennedy’s assassination, and was in circulation by 1964 – a remarkable feat of planning and design. Your version is one of the very first coins struck, and contains 90% silver content. The combination of the emotional resonance of the coin with the silver content led to extensive hoarding and from 1965 the silver was reduced and eliminated entirely in 1971.

4 - Six of the most collectable US coins ever issued

Proposed in 1969 as a commemoration of President Eisenhower and the success of Apollo 11.

5. Eisenhower Dollar (1971-74 & 1977-78)
This coin was proposed in 1969 as a commemoration of two major events that occurred that year. The first was the passing of former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the second was the success of the Apollo II mission landing on the moon. The coin was eventually released in 1971 and features an interpretation of the Apollo II insignia on the reverse and Eisenhower’s effigy on the obverse. There is speculation that the production of this coin was encouraged by lobbying from the Gambling industry, who wanted a large dollar coin in circulation for use in their casinos.

3 - Six of the most collectable US coins ever issued

The Standing Liberty Quarter was first minted in 1916 and became America’s most scandalous coin.

6. Standing Liberty Quarter (1916-1930)
The Standing Liberty Silver Quarter was first minted in late 1916 and instantly became America’s most scandalous coin. The designer was famed sculptor Hermon A MacNeil, and he used Broadway actress Irene MacDowell as the model for Lady Liberty. However, Liberty was shown with an exposed breast – and the Society for the Suppression of Vice was very vocal about the coin being immoral and obscene. There was such an uproar that the U.S. Mint was forced to change the design in 1917 to cover Liberty’s breast with a chain-mail shirt.

 

1794 flowing hair silver dollar 510x228 - US Silver Dollar becomes first ever coin to be sold for over $10m

The 1794 Silver Dollar is the first coin to smash through the $10m barrier

A rare 1794 Silver Dollar, thought to be among the first silver dollars ever struck by The US Mint, has set a new world-record by becoming the first ever coin to be sold for over $10 million.

The ‘Flowing Head’ was auctioned at Stack’s Bowers Galleries in New York earlier this year in front of a packed crowd of collectors, investors and dealers. Chairman David Bowers said the fact it was one of the first of its kind ever struck combined with its quality and scarcity helped to push up the price among bidders.

A new world record

The coin was eventually sold to Legend Numismatics for a record $10,016,875 –
the highest price ever paid for any coin – smashing the current record of $7,590,020 paid for a 1933 Double Eagle in 2002.  A spokesman for the US-based company which specialises in rare coins said afterwards it had been prepared to bid even higher for such a rare piece of American numismatic history.

One of the finest of its kind

The record-breaking coin, one of the finest known, was part of the Cardinal Collection which includes some of the oldest and rarest American coins. It features a profile of Liberty facing right with stars around the edge representing US states, a design only used in 1794 and briefly in 1795.

Although the 1794 Silver Dollar was the highlight of the auction, the total amount made from the sale of rare coins topped almost $27m.

A selection of America’s most famous and iconic coins is available here.

The man responsible for the world’s biggest economy blamed too many more pressing issues when questioned  on why the US is still spending millions minting its penny when other countries have got rid of it.  

us pennies - "Penny not at top of agenda" - President Obama joins the debate

Should the US Penny stay or go?

But during the recent online Q & A, President Barack Obama did give his strongest hint yet that it might be time for America’s lowest value coin – which costs 2.4 cents to produce and circulate – to go once and for all.

Drop the penny and save a mint?

In 2009, the US Government lost nearly £20m minting its one-cent coins. That figure had trebled to almost £60m just two years later. At a time of global recession, many argue that ditching the penny would be an obvious cost-cutting measure. Like many others around the world, the UK included, the US penny can’t even buy itself.

Not a top priority

But is it quite as simple as that? Obama may be President of the world’s most powerful nation but even he needs legislation from Congress who, not surprisingly, has other more important things to do.  And should the penny go, the five cent Nickel coin would be used more and that costs nearly five times more than the penny to put into circulation at 11.2 cents.

The end of the Canadian penny

As regular readers of this blog will know, should the bill ever go ahead, the US would be the latest in a long line of countries to eliminate its smallest denomination coin. Its North American neighbour stopped its production of the penny in January  after more than 150 years.

But Americans it seems are just as sentimental as we Brits are about holding onto a part of our numismatic heritage – despite the fact we can do very little with our pennies but save them for a very rainy day …