Learn About U.S. Coin Sizes Throughout the Nation’s History
United States currency has shifted in design and composition over the years. Although modifications were made for aesthetic reasons at times, practicality was the main driver for the adjustments. United States coins have changed in diameter, thickness and overall mass. Coin size has evolved throughout American history based on the needs of consumers and fluctuations in Precious Metal values.
U.S. Early Coins
U.S. Copper Coins
When the United States was still a fledgling Nation, coin sizes were quite different than they are today. Between 1793 and 1880, early coinage was sized based on the actual value of the Precious Metal itself.
For example, the United States Mint struck its first coins in 1793: large cents and half cents. These coins were made solely of Copper. The large cent contained the equivalent of $0.01 pure Copper, while the half cent contained $0.005. This is a great example of the size to value ratios followed in early coinage. Large cents and half cents were struck with that metal content until 1857 when rising production costs and waning popularity prevailed.
In 1858, the large cent was replaced by the small cent, comprised of a copper-nickel blend. Although the diameter of the small cent was 19 millimeters, similar to the modern Lincoln cent, it was far heavier and thicker. In 1982, the bronze coin alloy was adjusted to a Copper-coated zinc piece but retained the same diameter in millimeters.
Did you know? Lincoln cents have been minted continuously since 1909. Learn more about rare Lincoln cents
U.S. Silver Coins
Silver coins were no exception to the coin sizing standards based on weight and value. Half dimes, dimes, twenty cent pieces, quarters, half dollars, and dollar coins also contained their weight in the actual value of Silver. Consequently, Silver dollars, such as Morgan Silver Dollars and Peace Silver Dollars, contain .77344 troy ounces of Silver.
As the price of Silver rose, coins were made smaller and thinner but bore the same design. One can find apparent indicators of the size change on coins from the era. The change in Silver content is denoted by small arrows around the coin date, arrows and rays at the date, or arrows and rays on the reverse.
Did you know? Some series of coins, like Liberty Seated coins, may have up to five different sizes due to fluctuations in Silver prices.
U.S. Gold Coins
Gold Coins were minted in the following denominations: $1, $2.50, $3, $4, $5, $10 and $20. However, none contain a full ounce of Gold. When $20 Gold pieces were first struck in 1849, $20 would buy only .9675 troy ounces of fine Gold.
U.S. Coinage Today
The United States Mint adjusted the size of dollar coins in 1980 to encourage wider use. However, consumers were unmoved due to a preference for paper dollars. Additionally, consumers pushed back on the size of modern dollar coins, as the similarity to the modern quarter perpetuated confusion.
Although formerly used in general circulation, half dollar and dollar coins are produced today as collectible items. Still, these beautiful coins can be used as legal tender.
U.S. Modern Coin Makeover
Strategic size, shape and composition changes made by the United States Mint are reflected in the coins that we see today. The variety of modern American coin sizes aids in easy identification. Additionally, modern coins have been standardized to fit in the typical consumer’s pocket and do not add unnecessary weight.
Find Your United States Coin Sizes
The United States Mint offers U.S. coin size comparison resources that detail the size, diameter, composition, weight and thickness of modern coins. You can also easily find the size of your modern and collectible United States coins at APMEX.com. Search for your coin and check under the item’s specifications tab for coin size and composition details verified by our staff numismatists.