Minted: 1875-1878 (Philadelphia, PA; San Francisco, CA; Carson City, NV)
Designer: Christian Gobrecht (obverse), William Barber (reverse)
Value: USD 0.20
Composition: 90% silver, 10% copper
In the mid-1870s, Nevada's Comstock Lode had nearly reached its zenith, and Nevada Senator John Percival Jones took it upon himself to bolster the export market for said silver. The aim was to issue a twenty-cent coin, to compete with the silver franc as a reserve currency. Why twenty? The French issued a twenty-centime piece, but no twenty-five; the modern Euro follows this tradition. Canada also experimented with a twenty-cent in 1858, but withdrew it by 1870.
The US twenty-cent was similarly unsuccessful, likely because it was the long-established quarter’s fraternal twin, in both size and design. It bore the same Liberty Seated design as all the other silver coins of the time, from the dime to the dollar, and was slightly smaller than the quarter. On the obverse sits the goddess Liberty, on a rock, a shield in one hand and a pole bearing a liberty cap in the other. She is encircled by 13 stars; the date is at the bottom. On the reverse, "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA – TWENTY CENTS" surrounds an eagle clutching an olive branch and arrows; the mint mark is below.
The general public was naturally confused and unenthusiastic about the twenty-cent. Merely 1.3 million were struck for general circulation, beginning and primarily in 1875. Those minted from 1877 to 1878 were strictly proofs, after which the twenty-cent was no more. Today, it is both scarce and quite collectible. 1876 Carson City-minted twenties are among the rarest of US coins; of around 10,000 struck, only 20 escaped melting down for future coinage. No one really missed the twenty-cent.
United States Coinage