James Z. Writes: I am a university professor that at California State University, Hayward. I occupational with students that will end up being elementary college teachers. I was visiting a institution today, and also a 4th grader asked me the following question, “Why is the dime therefore small?” The penny and nickel space both bigger than the dime, yet the dime is worth more. Why is the dime smaller sized than the nickel?


The unified States provided to have actually an intrinsic monetary device that relied on turn precious steel coins because that commerce. Coins were “the money”. The United states really didn’t have a national paper money device until 1861 and that to be controversial due to the fact that they were “Legal Tender” notes, no redeemable for coins. This fiat money to be one way the joined States elevated funds to carry on the civil War. Record money redeemable because that gold and also silver coins were revitalized after the war but the file was only a receipt for coins.

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For money to it is in intrinsic, a dime had to have virtually 10 cents worth that silver, a quarter had to have virtually 25 cent worth that silver, etc. In the early days of the nation the precious steel content the U.S. Gold and silver coins was also high in partnership to precious steel prices in Europe and massive quantities of coins were melted, marketed in Europe and resold earlier to the joined States. The U.S. Reduced the precious steel content in 1834 and then in silver coins in 1853 and then was able to store coins in circulation. Half dimes, dimes, quarters, fifty percent dollars and also dollars to be struck in .900 fine silver and their value, size and also weight were proportional (less a tiny amount of seigniorige to aid defray the Mint’s cost of creating the coin).

Practical considerations request a low value token coinage in order to make change. The an initial copper cent were as practically as large as present day fifty percent dollars. This was an effort to make the coin intrinsic (one cent worth of copper). The eventually ended up being impractical to use such a coin in daily transactions and also that coin to be tokenized and also reduced by 1857 to the size we check out the cent today. Token coinage to be not straight redeemable because that precious metal coins and therefore no legal tender. Because that example, a 19th century financial institution might refuse to adjust 25 one cent coins into a silver- quarter)

The copper-nickel 5 cent was introduced as a token coinage in 1866 as was made larger for helpful reasons. Despite tiny, silver half dimes continued to be created until 1873 the bigger copper-nickel coin was less complicated to handle and also less likely to it is in lost. (Note that only precious steel coins had actually reeded edges. Base metal coins had plain edges)

Though base metal coinage was not legal tender, it was vital to assist complete transactions. The two significant 19th century coin shortages, in the 1830’s and in the 1860’s, virtually lugged commerce to its knee due the dearth of small change. A head industry developed during this duration making little change in the kind of tens of thousands of “good fors” and also “advertising tokens” For an ext info, see: Tokens – The peoples Money.


After 1964 practically all precious steels were eliminated from the U.S. Coinage device (a lower content, 40% silver half dollars continued to be produced until 1970) and also the entire coinage system ended up being tokenized. Coins were produced that mimicked the look at of the old precious steel coins through the clever usage of a copper-nickel sandwich v a pure copper core and a reeded edge. This composition is recognized as copper-nickel “Clad” coinage. The cent and nickel stayed the very same composition as before. The cent was more debased in 1982 by replacing copper planchets v zinc and then plating them through copper.

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Today the dimension relationship between United says coins still exists yet for factors of heritage only. Also, nobody of our present coins room legal tender and also no one is causing obligation to expropriate them together money. Money’s definition has changed radically end the years and now only paper money in the kind of commonwealth Reserve note are thought about legal tender.