20 Cent Pieces

20 Cent Pieces

History and Creation of the U.S. 20 Cent Coin, America’s Shortest-Lived Coin

In 21st century America, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bubble gum machine that will accept anything less than a quarter. But in 1875, 20 cents held real purchasing power. Depending on your area, it could be used to buy roughly a dozen eggs or three gallons of milk. But if one could just as easily make a 20 cent purchase with two dimes, why develop the 1875 20 cent coin?

In 1873, newly elected Nevada Senator John P. Jones arrived in Washington, D.C., anxious to serve his constituents on the American frontier. Among the chief concerns of the citizens of Nevada, and throughout the Far West, was a coin shortage that had lingered since the chaos of the Civil War.

Sen. Jones was no novice to Precious Metals. He first began mining Gold in 1849 in the California Gold rush and later amassed a fortune by gaining control of a Silver mine in Nevada in 1870. Sen. Jones hoped to see Nevadans more fully engaged in the national economy, but was also aware of the interests of Silver mining companies that desired increased demand by the federal government. In 1874, he pushed through legislation to mint the U.S. 20 cent coin.

But almost immediately after its release in 1875, U.S. 20 cent coins caused confusion and frustration. The new 20 cent pieces measured at 22 millimeters, just slightly smaller than long-established quarters at 24.3 millimeters. The obverses of both quarters and 20 cent coins were nearly identical. The two coins were frequently mistaken for each other, causing headaches for merchants and consumers.

By July 1876, Congress first introduced legislation to have the 20 cent coin abolished. While the bill failed to pass, it led to a further decrease in public confidence in the coin. Between 1877 and 1878, the Philadelphia Mint released only limited quantities of 20 cent pieces as proofs for collectors. In March 1877 In March 1877, the U.S. Mint melted down 12,359 20 cent coins, including almost the entire mintage of 1876. Experts believe that no more than two dozen of the 1876 20 cent coins remain today. The coin was formally abolished by Congress in 1878.

Today, this short-lived coin adds character and value to collections. Browse APMEX’s wide selection of rare U.S. 20 cent coins.

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