James Z. Writes: I to be a university professor who at California State University, Hayward. I job-related with students who will come to be elementary college teachers. Ns was visiting a institution today, and also a fourth grader request me the complying with question, “Why is the dime so small?” The penny and also nickel are both bigger than the dime, but the dime is worth more. Why is the dime smaller sized than the nickel?


The joined States supplied to have actually an intrinsic monetary mechanism that relied on circulating precious metal coins for commerce. Coins to be “the money”. The United says really didn’t have a national document money mechanism until 1861 and that to be controversial since they to be “Legal Tender” notes, not redeemable because that coins. This fiat money to be one means the joined States raised funds to carry on the polite War. Record money redeemable because that gold and also silver coins were revitalized after the war yet the record was only a receipt because that coins.

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For money to be intrinsic, a dime had to have actually virtually 10 cent worth that silver, a quarter had to have actually virtually 25 cents worth of silver, etc. In the beforehand days that the country the precious steel content of U.S. Gold and silver coins was too high in relationship to precious steel prices in Europe and also massive amounts of coins were melted, marketed in Europe and resold earlier to the united States. The U.S. Diminished the precious steel content in 1834 and also then in silver- coins in 1853 and also then to be able to keep coins in circulation. Fifty percent dimes, dimes, quarters, fifty percent dollars and dollars were struck in .900 well silver and also their value, size and weight to be proportional (less a little amount that seigniorige to help defray the Mint’s price of developing the coin).

Practical considerations request a low worth token coinage in order to do change. The first copper cent were as nearly as big as existing day fifty percent dollars. This was an attempt to make the coin intrinsic (one cent worth of copper). It eventually ended up being impractical to use such a coin in day-to-day transactions and also that coin to be tokenized and also reduced by 1857 come the size we view the cent today. Token coinage to be not straight redeemable for precious steel coins and therefore not legal tender. Because that example, a 19th century bank might refuse to change 25 one cent coins into a silver- quarter)

The copper-nickel 5 cent was introduced as a token coinage in 1866 together was made larger for handy reasons. Despite tiny, silver fifty percent dimes continued to be produced until 1873 the bigger copper-nickel coin was simpler to handle and less most likely to be lost. (Note that only precious steel coins had actually reeded edges. Base metal coins had plain edges)

Though base steel coinage was no legal tender, it was an essential to help complete transactions. The two significant 19th century coin shortages, in the 1830’s and also in the 1860’s, virtually carried commerce come its knees due the dearth of small change. A cottage industry arisen during this period making tiny change in the kind of tens of hundreds of “good fors” and “advertising tokens” For more info, see: Tokens – The peoples Money.


After 1964 practically all precious metals were eliminated from the U.S. Coinage system (a reduced content, 40% silver half dollars continued to be developed until 1970) and the entire coinage system ended up being tokenized. Coins were created that mimicked the look at of the old precious steel coins by the clever use of a copper-nickel sandwich through a pure copper core and also a reeded edge. This ingredient is well-known as copper-nickel “Clad” coinage. The cent and nickel continued to be the same composition as before. The cent was more debased in 1982 by instead of copper planchets with zinc and then plating them v copper.

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Today the size relationship in between United claims coins still exists but for factors of tradition only. Also, no one of our existing coins space legal tender and no one is obligated to accept them as money. Money’s an interpretation has readjusted radically end the years and also now only document money in the form of federal Reserve note are thought about legal tender.