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Denver Coins --> United States Coins --> United State Dollar --> History

Denver Gold and Silver
5475 Leetsdale Dr Suite 210
Denver, Colorado 80246

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United States Dollars

United Dollar History

See: Silver Dollars

The first dollar coins issued by the United States Mint were of the same size and composition as the Spanish dollar and even after the American Revolutionary War the Spanish and U.S. silver dollars circulated side by side in the United States. The coinage of various English colonies also circulated. The lion dollar was popular in the Dutch New Netherland Colony (New York), but the lion dollar also circulated throughout the English colonies during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Examples circulating in the colonies were usually worn so that the design was not fully distinguishable, thus they were sometimes referred to as "dog dollars".

The U.S. dollar was created and defined by the Coinage Act of 1792. It specified a "dollar" to be between 371 and 416 grains (27.0 g) of silver (depending on purity) and an 'eagle" to be between 247 and 270 grains (17 g) of gold (again depending on purity). It set the value of an eagle at 10 dollars, and the dollar at 1/10th eagle. It called for 90% silver alloy coins in denominations of 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/10, and 1/20; it called for 90% gold alloy coins in denominations of 1, 1/2, 1/4, and 1/10.

The value of gold or silver contained in the dollar was then converted into relative value in the economy for the buying and selling of goods. This allowed the value of things to remain fairly constant over time, except for the influx and out flux of gold and silver in the nation's economy.

For articles on the currencies of the colonies and states, see Connecticut pound, Delaware pound, Georgia pound, Maryland pound, Massachusetts pound, New Hampshire pound, New Jersey pound, New York pound, North Carolina pound, Pennsylvania pound, Rhode Island pound, South Carolina pound and Virginia pound.

Early history

The history of the dollar in North America pre-dates US independence. Even before the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress had authorized the issuance of dollar denominated coins and currency, since the term 'dollar' was in common usage referring to Spanish colonial 8 real coins or "Spanish Milled Dollars". Though several monetary systems were proposed for the early republic, the dollar was approved by Congress in a largely symbolic resolution on August 8, 1786. After passage of the Constitution was secured, the government turned its attention to monetary issues again in the early 1790s under the leadership of Alexander Hamilton, the secretary of the treasury at the time. Congress acted on Hamilton's recommendations in the Coinage Act of 1792, which established the Dollar as the basic unit of account for the United States. The word "dollar" is derived from Low Saxon "daler", an abbreviation of "Joachimsdaler" – (coin) from Joachimsthal (St. Joachim's Valley, now Jáchymov, Bohemia, then part of the Holy Roman Empire, now part of the Czech Republic; for further history of the name, see dollar.) – so called because it was minted from 1519 onwards using silver extracted from a mine which had opened in 1516 near Joachimstal, a town in the Ore Mountains of northwestern Bohemia. The term "dollar" was widely used in reference to a Spanish coin at the time it was adopted by the United States.


Because prices of gold and silver in the open marketplace vary independently, the production of coins of full intrinsic worth under any ratio will nearly always result in the melting of either all silver coins or all gold coins. In the early 1800s, gold rose in relation to silver, resulting in the removal from commerce of nearly all gold coins, and their subsequent melting. Therefore, in 1834, the 15:1 ratio was changed to a 16:1 ratio by reducing the weight of the nation's gold coinage. This created a new U.S. dollar that was backed by 1.50 g (23.22 grains) of gold. However, the previous dollar had been represented by 1.60 g (24.75 grains) of gold. The result of this revaluation, which was the first-ever devaluation of the U.S. dollar, was that the value in gold of the dollar was reduced by 6%. Moreover, for a time, both gold and silver coins were useful in commerce.

In 1853, the weights of US silver coins (except, interestingly, the dollar itself, which was rarely used) were reduced. This had the effect of placing the nation effectively (although not officially) on the gold standard. The retained weight in the dollar coin was a nod to bimetallism, although it had the effect of further driving the silver dollar coin from commerce.

With the enactment (1863) of the National Banking Act during the American Civil War and its later versions that taxed states' bonds and currency out of existence, the dollar became the sole currency of the United States and remains so today.

In 1878, the Bland-Allison Act was enacted to provide for freer coinage of silver. This act required the government to purchase between $2 million and $4 million worth of silver bullion each month at market prices and to coin it into silver dollars. This was, in effect, a subsidy for politically influential silver producers.

The discovery of large silver deposits in the Western United States in the late 19th century created a political controversy. Due to the large influx of silver, the value of silver in the nation's coinage dropped precipitously. On one side were agrarian interests such as the United States Greenback Party that wanted to retain the bimetallic standard in order to inflate the dollar, which would allow farmers to more easily repay their debts. On the other side were Eastern banking and commercial interests, who advocated sound money and a switch to the gold standard. This issue split the Democratic Party in 1896. It led to the famous "cross of gold" speech given by William Jennings Bryan, and may have inspired many of the themes in The Wizard of Oz. Despite the controversy, the status of silver was slowly diminished through a series of legislative changes from 1873 to 1900, when a gold standard was formally adopted. The gold standard survived, with several modifications, until 1971.

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