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The History of the 1875-1878 U.S. Twenty Cent Pieces

Accurate Precious Metals

July 5, 2024

The history of the 1875-1878 U.S. Twenty Cent Pieces is more than a chapter in American coin collecting. It shows the country’s economy and the tricky balance between laws and public opinion. This article delves deep into the start, making, and spread of these unique coins. It explains why they were discontinued so soon and what makes them a collector’s treasure today. Are you a numismatist, a casual coin collector, or just someone interested in American history? This post will enlighten you on the story of the Twenty-cent piece.

What Prompted the Inception of the Twenty-cent Piece?

The inception of the Twenty-cent piece traces back to the economic landscape of the early 1870s. At that time, there was a pressing need for a small denomination coin that could facilitate transactions in the western United States, especially Nevada. This region, with its burgeoning mining industry, frequently found itself short of smaller denominations like the dime and nickel.

In 1874, Senator John P. Jones from Nevada advocated for the creation of a new coin denomination that would alleviate the issue. He proposed the Twenty-cent piece, envisioning it as a convenient solution for the transaction troubles faced by Western merchants and miners. Consequently, Congress authorized the coin in 1875, marking the start of its short-lived but interesting presence in American currency.

Why Did the U.S. Mint Add a New Coin Denomination?

The U.S. Mint added the Twenty-cent piece primarily to bridge the gap caused by the shortage of smaller silver coins. The idea was that this new denomination would ease the transactional problems in remote areas. However, the solution was not as seamless as expected. Many saw the new coin simply as unnecessary, given the existence of the dime and quarter.

The initial excitement waned as merchants and the general public found the Twenty-cent piece strikingly similar to the quarter. This similarity led to confusion and hampered its acceptance. The mint attempted to distinguish it with different design elements, but the inconvenience persisted, ultimately leading to its downfall.

Where Were the Twenty Cent Pieces Minted?

The Twenty-cent pieces were minted at several facilities, including the Philadelphia Mint, Carson City Mint, and San Francisco Mint. These mints played an essential role in circulating the new denomination across different regions, although not evenly.

Philadelphia Mint, being the principal minting facility, handled the initial production. However, many also came from the Carson City Mint and San Francisco Mint. They came to address the specific needs of the western United States. These variations in mint locations resulted in distinct mint marks that today help collectors identify the origin and rarity of each coin.

How Did the Public React to the Twenty-cent Piece?

The public reaction to the Twenty-cent piece was less than enthusiastic. The coin bore a close resemblance in size and design to the quarter, causing widespread confusion. This similarity made it difficult for people to differentiate at a glance, which led to practical frustrations in daily transactions.

Due to this confusion, merchants and customers often avoided using the coin. The Treasury attempted to mitigate the problem by advising people to familiarize themselves with the new coin, but the initiative fell short. Despite this, the Twenty-cent piece continued to face low circulation and limited mintage due to poor reception.

Design Elements: What Sets the Twenty Cent Piece Apart?

The design of the Twenty-cent piece, though similar to other coins, featured certain distinct elements. The obverse side showcased the United States Seated Liberty motif, akin to other contemporary silver coins. Liberty, seated on a rock, holding a shield and an olive branch, symbolized the country’s values and aspirations.

The reverse side displayed a small eagle with outstretched wings, a design choice intended to differentiate it from the quarter, which featured a larger eagle. The edge of the coin was smooth—one of its most distinguishing features, as opposed to the reeded edges on dimes and quarters. Despite these measures, the coin’s size and general appearance continued to confuse the public.

Which Mint Marks Should Collectors Look For?

Collectors prize certain mint marks on the Twenty-cent pieces due to their rarity and historical significance. The “CC” mark from the Carson City Mint stands out, especially for the 1876-CC coins, which are notoriously scarce and highly sought after among numismatists.

More common are coins from the Philadelphia Mint, which bear no mint mark, and those from the San Francisco Mint, with the “S” mint mark. These mint marks provide a glimpse into each facility’s distribution strategy and mintage volumes. Collectors often refer to the NGC Coin Explorer or auction records to estimate the value based on the mint mark and condition of the coin.

What Led to the Discontinuation of the Twenty-cent Piece?

Several factors led to the discontinuation of the Twenty-cent piece by 1878. Foremost among these was the public confusion and consequent rejection. People found it too similar to the quarter, prompting many to avoid it. This lack of acceptance resulted in low circulation.

Additionally, the coin’s utilitarian purpose did not unfold as planned. Instead of easing transactions, it complicated them. By 1876, the Treasury halted further production, officially ending its minting in 1878. The coin had failed to meet its objectives and was quietly retired from circulation.

Are Twenty Cent Pieces Valuable Today?

Today, Twenty-cent pieces hold significant value among collectors. Their short mintage period and low circulation make them rare and desirable, and the coin’s unique place in U.S. numismatic history further enhances its allure.

Value varies based on factors such as mint marks, condition, and specific year of issuance. For instance, an 1876-CC coin in good condition can fetch a high price due to its rarity. Numismatists often consult catalogs and databases like the NGC Coin Explorer to determine current market values. Enthusiasts trust reputable dealers like Accurate Precious Metals. They trust them for fair appraisals and transactions when buying or selling these coins.

What Resources Are Available for Numismatists?

Numismatists have access to numerous resources for studying and collecting Twenty-cent pieces. Key among these are grading organizations. Examples include the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. They offer grading, authentication, and value estimation.

Additionally, comprehensive databases and census tools help collectors track coin populations and rarity. Auctions and numismatic shows also serve as valuable venues for acquiring and exchanging these 20-cent coins. Engaging with online communities and forums can offer insights and updates about trends and discoveries in the numismatic world.

FAQ About 1875-1878 Twenty Cent Pieces

How Can I Differentiate Between a Quarter and a Twenty Cent Piece?

Though similar in appearance, the edge of a Twenty-cent piece is smooth, unlike the reeded edge of a quarter. Examining the reverse design—the small, spread eagle on the Twenty-cent piece versus the larger eagle on the quarter—can also help identify them.

What Are the Rarest Twenty Cent Pieces?

The 1876-CC pieces from the Carson City Mint are among the rarest and most coveted by collectors. Their limited mintage and regional significance make them highly valuable.

Can I Find Twenty Cent Pieces in Circulation Today?

No, the Twenty-cent piece is no longer in circulation. Due to their limited production and eventual discontinuation, these coins are now mostly found in collections and sometimes at auctions.

Conclusion

  • The Twenty-cent piece emerged as a solution to the shortage of small denomination coins in the western U.S. but faced public resistance due to its resemblance to the quarter.
  • Mint facilities like the Philadelphia Mint, Carson City Mint, and San Francisco Mint produced these coins, with distinct mint marks indicating their origin.
  • Efforts to set its design apart failed. Confusion remained, so its circulation was limited. It was discontinued in 1878.
  • Today, these coins are valuable for collectors. Resources are available for grading, proving authenticity, and valuation.

Sources

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) Coin Explorer, Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. https://www.ngccoin.com/coin-explorer/twenty-cent-us-coin/.

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