What are obsolete coins?

So glad you asked. They are not just the coins that you no longer have in your pocket, hehe. They are coins that are not being currently made by the mint for use in everyday commerce. Now they may still be legal tender, but that is not the case in every country.

In the US, we generally refer to obsolete coins as those coin denominations no longer in production. These include Half Cents, Large Cents, Two Cents, Three Cents Silver or Nickel, Half Dimes and Twenty Cents. The names pretty much describe their face values.

Now my first question at seeing this list was “half dime”…..really. What a stupid name. Well if you think, historically, that there were “dimes”, being derived from the French “dime” which was derived from the Latin “Decima” meaning tenth part. Thus a dime is ten cents. Today we know a nickel is five cents, but the name came from its metal content, not its value, so a “half dime” actually is a good name for it, but I digress….

Mintage dates of the obsolete US Coins

Half Cent: Minted 1793 to 1857
Large Cents: Minted 1793 to 1857
Two Cent Piece: Minted 1864 to 1873
Three Cent Piece: Minted 1851 to 1889
Half Dime: Minted 1792 to 1873
Twenty Cent Piece: Minted 1875 to 1878

Each of these lovely denominations had a purpose at their time, but due to inflation (loaf of bread in 1830’s = ~9 cents), manufacturing cost or a change in the way commerce was conducted, they were no longer practical and the mint discontinued making them. Besides do you really want to be walking around with half cents to pay for penny candy, which is really more like quarter candy now anyway?

Some collectors specialize in these coins, others want nothing to do with them. Many are quite small, except the large cents, of course.

Large Cents

Speaking of large cents, this is just the term for coins that were one cent (penny) but were made before 1857 and thus are “large” in actual size compared to today’s pennies.

Those that specialize in these coins also refer to them as “Coppers” and they are a whole distinctive subset of coin collectors with their own grading, names, and the like. I will never be a Copperhead, so will never really fully understand all that they are saying!