The United States twenty cent coin (often called a twenty cent piece) was a unit of currency equalling 1/5th of a United States dollar.
The twenty cent coin had one of the shortest mintages and lowest circulations in US coin history, for both the series and the denomination. It was minted from 1875-1878, but was only released for circulation in 1875 and 1876, with only a few hundred proofs released during the remaining two years.
It also has the distinction of being one of the few coins minted in the short lived Carson City Mint branch of the United States Mint in Carson City, Nevada (which only operated from 1870-1893).
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
Nearly 1,355,000 were produced in total, with over 1.1 million of those being the 1875-S. 10,000 of the 1876-CC were minted, but most were melted down at the US Mint before ever being released, and now only an estimated 12-20 are thought to exist.
The U.S. twenty-cent piece was created at the urging of Senator John Percival Jones from Nevada. Jones represented the silver miners of the Comstock Lode.
The coin was invented as a tactic for increasing U.S. silver exports. It was meant to circulate on a par with the silver franc, a widely used international reserve currency of the 1870s. The French-franc heritage survives in Europe to this day; most European countries which eventually adopted decimal formats preferred the 20/100 denomination over the 25/100, and today’s Euro coinage includes a 20-cent piece, not a 25-cent piece. The Province of Canada also issued 20-cent coins in 1858 for the same reason; after independence, Canada abandoned the innovation in favor of 25-cent coins, first struck in 1870. Newfoundland, which did not join Canada until 1949, issued 20-cent coins from 1865 until 1912.
There were several valid reasons for the speedy withdrawal of the 20-cent piece from general circulation in the United States. Foremost, it was easily confused with the quarters of the era, having the same Liberty Seated design on the front, and a similar eagle design on the back, as well as the same metallic composition and a similar size. One would basically have had to read the small and easily worn text on the reverse in order to determine the value (TWENTY CENTS vs QUAR. DOL.) without a side by side comparison. Another difference was that the 20-cent coins had a smooth edge while the other silver denominations featured a reeded, or milled, edge. A third difference — chiefly noted today by collectors as an aid in determining the coins’ numismatic value — is that the word “LIBERTY” on the twenty-cent piece’s obverse shield was raised; the word wore smooth more quickly than it did on the other Liberty Seated coins.
For these reasons, the U.S. twenty-cent piece quickly failed to gain acceptance, and its mintage for general circulation ceased only two years after it began.
Designer: by William Barber
Mintage: All Years 1,355,000
Diameter: ±22 millimeters
Metal content: Silver – 90% Other – 10%
Weight: ±77.2 grains (±5.0 grams)
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