Coins that Never Really Caught On — the 20ȼ Piece

Third in an occasional series.

My article, A Platinum Coin to Pay Down the Debt, was written with tongue firmly in cheek, but the US Treasury has come up with some real coins almost as ridiculous. Our first example was the two-cent piece, followed by the three-cent piece. Today we introduce the twenty-cent piece.

The twenty-cent piece was struck from 1875 to 1878, but only proof coins for collectors were produced in 1877 and 1878. It was proposed by newly-elected Nevada Senator John P. Jones, who claimed it would alleviate the shortage of small change in the far West. This shortage was caused by a number of factors. First, base-metal coins, such as pennies and nickels, weren’t widely accepted in California, and, second, with the exception of California, gold and silver coins had been hoarded during the Civil War.

In addition, pressure from mining and other interests spurred Congress to decide that more silver bullion should be made into coins. Naturally, Congress leaped into the breech, and with the legislation passed, it was time to design the new coin. The mint liked the existing Seated Liberty design, so they decided to go with that. The problem was that the current quarter also used the Seated Liberty design. Not only that, the two coins were similar in size.


Mint officials decided to change the direction the eagle on the reverse was facing, and to make the edge smooth rather than reeded (ridged, like today’s quarters.) With amazing foresight, officials thought that would be all that’s needed for the public to tell the two coins apart, thereby proving that Congress in the 1870s was the equal of today’s Congress in intelligence.

20c-obverse 20c-reverse SeatedQuarter_Rev
Seated Liberty Obverse
20ȼ Piece Reverse
Quarter Reverse

Needless to say, the two coins were constantly confused with one another, which is why they only circulated for a couple of years.

Today, a VF example of the least expensive 20ȼ piece (the 1875-S) costs in the neighborhood of $175.

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