The Fantastic History of the Most Well-known U.S. Coin

What makes a coin valuable? That’s why coin collectors– or numismatics– stockpile cents. That’s why $20 coins offer for $7 million.
No collection in America has more storied coins than the National Museum of American History. In the gallery listed below, we’ve collected five of their most well-known pieces, with descriptions inspired from my discussion with curator Dr. Richard Doty. The full history of the notorious 1804 silver dollar (pictured above) continues below:


The 1804 silver dollar is one of the most coveted and interesting American coins in the world– a gem of the Smithsonian’s collection. The infamous 1804 silver dollar wasn’t struck in 1804. Or 1805. It was struck half a century later under strange, questionable and, well, prohibited situations.

The story starts in 1804, when the U.S. Mint struck 20,000 silver dollars with year-old casts. Due to traders benefiting off the sale of Spanish-American Pieces of 8, the Mint stopped striking these coins.
He requested pieces of every coin in US circulation– “gold, silver or copper”– to provide to the King of Siam and other foreign leaders. Since the initial 1804 coins had actually been dated 1803, this indicated the date “1804” didn’t appear on a silver dollar coin till 1834.

Baffled? It gets better!

Over the years, this little batch of 1804 silver dollars ended up being prominent amongst coin collectors. Between 1858 and 1860, he privately and unlawfully printed the qualities of a 1804 silver dollar on top of existing coins. Eckfeldt sold these prohibited strikes– known formally as “Class II” 1804 silver dollars– to a Philadelphia coin shop.

And it is quite perhaps the most popular American coin in the world. Here are huge fat picture of the coin, provided by the National Numismatic Collection.

What makes a coin costly, anyhow? “The greatest thing is need,” states Dr. Richard Doty, a curator at National Numismatic Collection at the National Museum of American History. “You can have a roman coin that is 2,000 years of ages and special, however if there is no need or legend around it, it’s nothing, “he said.

In 1909, for Lincoln’s 100th birthday, the U.S. Mint made half a million Lincoln pennies designed and by Victor David Brenner, who etched his initials on the reverse. The government wasn’t pleased, therefore Brenner was informed to end the initials on subsequent problems. Still, about half a million pennies with Brenner’s initials were released. Coin collectors suddenly understood that the coin would be scarce adequate to be valuable and interesting enough to create high demand. Today it’s probably the most popular American one-cent piece ever made.

“A coin needs to have notoriety,” Doty states. “If you have three collectors and two coins you have a market. If you have three coins and 2 collectors you don’t.