Useful Notes: American Currency
"One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies."(See also the Useful Notes article on American Money, which evolved independently of this article.) The spread of American media and American influence has made American currency at least somewhat well-known in many places. The following coins are in circulation (ignoring special coins made only for collectors):
—The Gift of the Magi, O. Henrynote
—The Gift of the Magi, O. Henrynote
- Cents. A hundred of these make up a dollar. The coins themselves are often called pennies (never "pence"), but prices are still in "cents". These used to be made of solid copper (with steel cent coins being manufactured for about a year during WWII) but increasing copper prices (and pressure from the zinc industry) resulted in a change to zinc with copper plating in 1982. They also cost the mint about 1½ cents to manufacture one, i.e., for every 2 cents the mint manufactures, it costs them 3 cents. Most vending machines won't accept them and they are nearly worthless but they are handy in making change (note that sales tax in the United States is added to the sale price, resulting in uneven totals) and there's no real sign of them going away. Features the head of Abraham Lincoln.
- Nickels (5 cents), showing Thomas Jefferson. The nickel is only about 25 percent nickel.
- Dimes (10 cents), with Franklin D. Roosevelt. Smaller than both the nickel and the penny. Contained silver up to 1964. Also, it is the lowest denomination to have a scalloped edge; the edge of the dime, quarter and half dollar have grooves; all the other coins (except the Susan B. Anthony dollar) are flat edged. It has Roosevelt because as President he created the March of Dimes, a charity organization where people would donate dimes to help support polio research and give money to families whose children had polio. Roosevelt famously lost the use of his legs to the disease when he was 39.
- Quarters (25 cents), with George Washington. Contained silver up to 1964, minted out of a copper/nickel "sandwich" composition since.. Featured commemorative bicentennial design in 1975-'76 that replaced the year of minting with the dual-date "1776-1976" and a special tails-side design for both years. Has not had a single tails-side design since the 1998 series (see below).
- Half dollar (50 cents). Featured the head of Benjamin Franklin through 1963. Has featured the head of John F. Kennedy since 1964. Minted in 90% silver through 1964, and then minted in 40% silver until 1970, minted out of the above-mentioned copper/nickel "sandwich" since then. Generally not accepted by vending machines and rarely seen in circulation. Some small businesses will give you them in change as a gimmick. Featured commemorative bicentennial design in 1975-'76 that replaced the year of minting with the dual-date "1776-1976" and a special tails-side design for both years.
- Dollar coins. In general circulation up to the 1930s (silver), then not until the Eisenhower dollar starting in 1971 (like the above-mentioned quarter and half-dollar coins, the Eisenhower dollar coin was composed of a copper/nickel "sandwich"). Featured commemorative bicentennial design in 1975-'76 that replaced the year of minting with the dual-date "1776-1976" and a special tails-side design for both years. The modern size of dollar coin was introduced with the Susan B. Anthony coin minted from 1979 through 1981, with a few more minted in 1999 (again, a copper/nickel "sandwich"), which was reviled for looking almost exactly like a quarter in both size and color. The other mistake with the Susan B. was that the edge was scalloped, exactly the way a quarter is, making it virtually impossible to tell the difference between this dollar coin and the quarter unless you looked at it. The current Sacagaweanote dollar coins are gold-colored and easier to distinguish because the edge is flat instead of scalloped, but remain unpopular, appearing mostly in post office and subway vending machines, though a helpful tip: Their weight, diameter, thickness and even electromagnetic properties are identical to the Susan B. Anthony; therefore any machine that accepts the SBA is guaranteed to also accept the newer golden (color) dollar coins as well. There also was a brief series of collectible dollar coins with portraits of U.S. presidents. It started in 2007, but ended abruptly in 2011 because people were saving the coins and not spending them (Instead of issuing to general circulation, starting with Chester A. Arthur, the remainder of the coins in the series are to be minted for collectable purposes only). Interesting bit of trivia: the design on the tails-side of the (non-bicentennial) Eisenhower dollar coin and the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin was derived from the Apollo 11 mission patch's design, a reference to the fact that the lunar module of that mission was christened "Eagle". Another cool tidbit: The presidential $1 coin series are the first ever American coinage to feature lettering/numbering engraved on the coin's edge that is neither on the heads-side nor the tails-side of the coin.
- 1 dollar (George Washington again); The most common bank note. Often referred to as a "single", a "one", or simply a "buck".
- 2 dollars (Thomas Jefferson again): The $2 bill is a common butt of jokes and is seldom seen in the wild, but is still printed in small amounts and can be requested at banks. Stories of merchants believing they are fake turn up every so often, with varying degrees of dubiousness. Nicknames include "deuce", "Tom", "Tom-Tom", and "T.J."
- 5 dollars (Abraham Lincoln again). Currently a grayish-green bill becoming a purple color in the center. Nicknames include "fin", "fiver" (yes, the same nickname used for a British five-pound note), and "five-spot".
- 10 dollars (Alexander Hamilton; not a president, but a secretary of the Treasury). Current issue is a lovely shade of orange fading to yellow in the center. Referred to as a "sawbuck"note , "ten-spot", or "Hamilton".
- 20 dollars (Andrew Jackson). Currently the only denomination dispensed by the vast majority of cash machines. This leads to it getting the nickname of "Yuppie food stamps" since splitting a bill at a restaurant invariably leads to the diners paying with a pile of 20s. Current bills have a faint green edge becoming orange-yellow in the center. Other nicknames are "double sawbuck", "dub", and "Jackson". Ironically, President Jackson was a firm believer in hard currency and tried to outlaw paper money.
- 50 dollars (Ulysses S. Grant). Current issue has a stylized image of the U.S. flag on it, in appropriate colors (though the white looks more buff). Nicknamed a Grant, of course.
- 100 dollars (Benjamin Franklin; not a president). The highest denomination in circulation. Remained green the longest out of all the denominations higher than 2 dollars, but the current issue has a teal-blue edge that becomes white in the center. It's all about the Benjamins, baby. Or the Benjis. Or the Franklins. Or the C-notes.
- Larger bills existed but have not been produced since the 1930s. They were essentially used for interbank transactions and settlement of debts owed by banks, but with the use of the Federal Reserve, wire transfers and computer transaction matching they're generally not needed any more. They're graced by such luminaries as Grover Cleveland and Obscurity Hall-of-Famer Salmon P. Chase.note