The smallest United States silver coins were authorized by Congress March 3, 1851. This coin was the three cent piece struck from 1851 to 1873. Designed by James Longacre, this coinage experienced a weight and design change during its production.
The Act of April 2, 1792 authorized the issuance of the Half Dime, Dime, Quarter, and Half Dollar and Dollar. Production of the half dime did not commence until February 1795 with the first coins dated 1794. Weights were changed several times during its production as were the coin's design. Half Dimes were struck from 1794 to 1873.
Though authorized in 1792, the first dime was not struck until 1796. This draped bust, small eagle reverse dime was designed by Gilbert Stuart. Other well known designers of the various dime series include: Christian Gobrecht, Robert Scot, John Reich, Charles E. Barber, A. A. Weinman and John R. Sinnock, the designer of the still minted Roosevelt Dime. As with most of our coinage, various designs have been implimented throughout the dime's production. Dimes have a weight of twice that of the half dimes.
Like the dime, the quarter's production did not start until 1796. Like the early half dimes and dimes, the early quarters do not have any mark of value. The value "25c" was added to the reverse in 1804, changed to "QUAR. DOL." in 1838, and in 1892 value was spelled out entirely. Minted from 1796 to present, the quarter also experienced various weight and design changes.
The half dollar had only a two year wait from its authorization in 1792 to its start of production in 1794. Early half dollars are often collected by die varities which exist for most dates. Standards and design changes also occurred for this series of coins that are still being minted today.
As with the half dollar, the first issues of the dollar appeared in 1794. it is interesting to note that until 1804, all dollars had the value stamped on the edge of the coin. No dollars were produced between 1805 and 1835. When production resumed all dollars were made with a plain or reeded edge and had the denomination on its revese. Circulation strikes and patterns of the Gobrecht Dollar were struck in 1836, 1838, and 1839. The mint produced restrikes to satisfy collector demands between 1855 and 1860. Mules (coins with mismatched combinations of dies) were also struck in the 1850's and are rare. Dollars were once again struck in 1840 for general circulation and continued through 1873.
Trade Dollars were issued for circulation in the Orient to compete with dollar-size coin of other countries. Since many pieces circulated in the Orient, it is not uncommon to encounter coins that have been counterstamped with Oriental characters refered to as "chop marks". These usually sell for less than the normal pieces. First coined as legal tender in the United States to the extent of $5.00, they no longer retain that status.