Search articles

The Numismatic Bicentennial Of... Not Much


In a recent column, we took a look at the 1917 Type II Quarter that marked its centennial anniversary this year. So I thought we’d take a look back another hundred years – back to 1817 and see what the U.S. Mint was up to. The short answer is... not much.

The Half Cent had been on hiatus since 1811 and would not reappear again until 1825. Never popular, mintages had always been a fraction of its larger sibling, the cent, and after another 10 years of mintage between 1825 and 1835, circulation strikes would again be suspended until 1849. Looking back, it’s a bit odd this coin was not more popular, as its face value in today’s money would be roughly equal to that of a dime.

The Mint’s great standby, the Large Cent, would be struck in 1817, as it would be every year from its inception in 1793 through today, with the exception of 1815. That’s not entirely accurate, though, as it is believed some cents dated 1814 were actually struck in 1815, but no cents dated 1815 were made. Blame a bullion shortage caused by the War of 1812 with Britain.

Coinage of Half Dimes had ended in 1805 and did not resume until 1829. The apparent lack of demand is again puzzling, as the value of a Half Dime (or five cents) during this period, would be equivalent to about one dollar today. That seems a useful sized denomination to me. During this period, though, a great amount of foreign money (mostly Spanish silver) was in circulation, and that likely sufficed.

Dimes were struck intermittently during this period as well, though the gaps are not quite as large as for the Half Cent and Half Dime. Nonetheless, no dimes fell from the Mint’s presses between 1815 and 1819.

Like the Dime, the Quarter had several gaps in coinage during the early years. 1797-1803, 1808-1814, and 1816-1817 saw no Quarters struck, and it wasn’t until the end of the 1820s that regular annual production would begin for Half Dimes, Dimes, and Quarters.

So while the above three denominations were coined in irregular intervals, the Half Dollar enjoyed a very steady and consistent mintage. Why? Well, it was not because it circulated heavily among the populace. It was used as the coin of account between banks, and most were shuffled between institutions during this period. (This accounts for the huge supply today of Bust Halves in VF-XF grades.) Keep in mind that its face value in today’s money was roughly $10.00, so its usefulness as a store of value is apparent. Between 1801 and 1922, only one year (1816) saw no Half Dollars struck.

The Silver Dollar was another victim of insufficient demand, with circulation coinage effectively suspended between 1804 and 1840. Even after their resumption, their appeal was limited, with most circulating in the Western states. The towering quantities of Morgan Dollars struck were more of a sop to the silver mining interests in Nevada than a necessity of commerce, and most sat in the U.S. treasury vaults for decades.

Any gold struck in 1817? Nope. So presented for your viewing pleasure... the mint set for 1817:

817 Mint Set, excluding varieties. Cent (at left) and Half Dollar (at right).

Coin Collecting: Basics History