By Dr. Richard S. Appel – UniqueRareCoins.com ……
From its inception, the silver 20-cent coin was one of the most poorly conceived, ill-received and unpopular coins produced by the United States Mint. Its great similarity in design and size with the circulating 25-cent coin was confusing to many Americans. The 20-cent piece was allegedly introduced to facilitate making change for small purchases. A practice called “shortchanging” was apparently widespread at the time; a customer offering a quarter dollar to a shopkeeper to pay for a 10- or 15-cent item would often receive less than he should in change.
The coining of 20-cent pieces was discussed by our government as early as 1791 when the coin was referred to as a “double disme”, and again in 1806. However, it was not until the passing of the Coinage Act of March 3, 1875 that the coin was authorized. Chief Engraver William Barber designed the coin.
Twenty-cent pieces for general circulation were only made in 1875 and 1876.
1875 witnessed coins produced at the Philadelphia, San Francisco and Carson City Mints. 1876 examples were only issued from the Philadelphia and Carson City facilities. Proof collector specimens were coined at the Philadelphia Mint in those years, and in 1877 and 1878 for inclusion in proof sets. Importantly, 12 proof coins were also coined in 1875 bearing a San Francisco “S” mint-mark, and only about a half dozen are known to exist; these are major rarities and are seldom seen.
Despite the short life of this denomination, and given the public’s distaste for the coin, the mintages for most of the issues were quite low. The 1875-S is the most common with a mintage of 1,155,000. In 1875 and 1876 the Philadelphia Mint only produced 38,500 and 14,000 coins respectively.
While the 1875-CC has a mintage of 133,290, the 1876 Carson City emission is a great rarity. Despite its original mintage of 10,000 examples, the vast majority were melted at the Mint. Today, possibly 20 examples are extant, and they trade in the $250,000 to $500,000 range depending upon quality.
Other than the 1875-S proof issue, the other proof dates have mintages between 510 and 1,500 coins. Both mint state and proof 20-cent coins have always been very desirable to collectors and investors alike due to their unusual denomination, short period of issuance and rich history.
In July 1876, a bill was introduced to discontinue the denomination. It became effective in May 1878, at which time the Mints were instructed to melt all 20-cent coins they had on hand. This action made the 1876 Carson City issue the rarity it is because their other fellows met their fate in the melting pot.
I believe 20-cent pieces are quite attractive and desirable, possessing a wonderful story. It is an easily collectable series in either mint-state or proof condition. That is, unless one has the desire to possess the coveted 1875-S proof or 1876-CC mint state examples.
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Dr. Richard S. Appel is the principal for his company UniqueRareCoins.com, working as a rare coin broker or consultant for his clients. Dr. Appel uses his 50 years of experience as a former rare coin dealer to obtain the choicest coins offered in the wholesale market, and at the lowest dealer prices. Or, if his client is selling, he strives for the highest possible sale prices. Those he works for find him indispensable. Dr. Appel can be reached at 1-800-782-2646 or [email protected].
PCGS-Certified Liberty Seated 20-Cent Pieces Currently Available on eBay
Some additional thoughts:
The 20¢ piece is the “denomination that should have been” because it fits exactly into a true decimal coinage system based on multiples and divisors of 10. That’s why so many other countries that decimalized later in history adopted 1, 2, and 5-unit denominations.
The nascent US system, though, had to be compatible with co-circulating Spanish milled dollars that were divided into fractions of 1/2, 1/4, and 1/8. The half-dollar was equivalent to four bits, and it was decided that making a 1/8-dollar coin wasn’t practical because the difference between a disme (10¢) and a single bit (12½¢) wasn’t consequential. However the two-bit piece could be readily equalled by a 25¢ coin and so the quarter-dollar was born instead of a double disme.
In hindsight the Mint should have bit the bullet and discontinued the quarter following demonetization of Spanish coins in 1857, but as we’ve seen with the analogous difficulty of ending $1 bill production, changing this country’s change can extraordinarily difficult.
One unintended consequence of retaining the quarter is that it could be a significant roadblock if at some point the Mint determines that the nickel should be obsoleted as well as the cent. Because the quarter’s not a multiple of the dime, that 19th-century problem of shortchanging small purchases would resurface. That incompatibility’s why, when the Royal Canadian Mint recently (2015?) studied effects of eliminating their 5¢ coin, determined that it would only be practical if Canada scrapped its quarter in favor of … a double dime.
The 1860s also saw the replacement of the half-dime with the nickel. The Mint should have also shrunken down the half-dollar so it could be used more, thereby bridging the gap between the quarter (or double-dime) and the dollar. At least Australia and New Zealand got theirs right back in the 1960s.
There’s a typo in the author’s bio: Dr. Appel is referred to as a “principle” of his firm. While I’m certain his principles are high, I believe the position should be “principal”.
Ha! Thank you, we’ll fix it shortly.