Two different dollars were both first...
Was the first American dollar coin the Continental Dollar of 1776? In that year, we were still fighting a war for independence and had no national mint. The first dollar coin from the United States Mint was made in 1794, almost 20 years later.
So you think you know how much a Continental Dollar is worth?
The coins we call "Continental Dollars" are not marked as dollars. Since they were not all made of silver, we guess that the silver ones were worth a dollar, the brass ones worth one pence, and the pewter...who knows?
Ben Franklin made lots of money...but whose?
The design for the Continental Dollar coin that came out during the Revolutionary War was based on a paper dollar designed by Benjamin Franklin. He also found a way to keep crooks from printing phony bills—but that's another Fun Fact.
Paper currency reproduced with permission from The Department of Special Collections, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN.
Ben Franklin helped to stop counterfeiters...
In the 1700s, it was pretty easy to print money that looked real. But it was Franklin who finally hit on a good idea in 1739: He cast real leaves in lead and called it the "nature print." He kept the process so secret that no one figured out how he did it until the 1960s.
This penny is almost as big as a half dollar...
America's first one-cent piece, called the "large cent," was first struck in 1793, one year after the Mint opened. It was so big that it was hard to use, but it wasn't replaced by a smaller penny until 1857, more than 50 years later
People used to count coins without numbers...
The Mint's first gold and silver coins had no denominations on them. Since their designs were the same, the only way to tell them apart was by their size. People must have been really careful when they counted their change!
How much is an eagle worth?
The Act that created the Mint called for an "eagle" in gold, worth $10. The coin showed an eagle, of course, on the back. The Act also called for a half eagle worth $5 and even a quarter eagle worth $2.50...but the whole bird still appeared on the coins. With 1849's gold rush in California came a $20 gold coin, which quickly became known as a double eagle...with one bird on it. (The United States Mint still makes gold coins, but people usually buy them as an investment rather than for spending.)
If you're worth 25 cents, why not say so?...
The quarter dollar made in 1804 was the first silver coin in the United States Mint's history to have a value on it! Yes, up until then, all silver and gold American coins were nondenominated. People had to know by their size how much they were worth. Only copper coins were required to show their denominations.
Lady Liberty was on her feet for 42 years...
The imaginary woman who stood for liberty on our coins was always shown standing (unless only her head was shown) since she first appeared in 1794. But she took a seat in 1836 when the "Seated Liberty" silver dollars came out and showed her sitting on a rock. She probably needed the rest!
Why Lady Liberty doesn't get around much anymore...
Just before 1909, there was an image of Lady Liberty on almost every circulating American coin. But over the following 38 years, she was gradually replaced on all of them, mostly by former Presidents. Although Lady Liberty doesn't circulate anymore, she still appears on some special coins.