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Coin

coins gold silver value

Coin, piece of stamped metal, of a fixed value and weight, issued to serve as money. Until banknotes came into use, coins were the only form of money. The principal metals used in coinage are gold, silver, and copper. They were originally used in their pure state, but were later alloyed (combined) with other substances to make the coins cheaper and more resistant to wear. Coins have presented a constant temptation to engage in monetary trickery. From the time of the Romans, when rulers had large debts, they reduced the amount of precious metals in coins and passed them off on their creditors at the old value; this process is called debasement.

The first known coins were struck in Lydia, Asia Minor, in the 8th century B.C. These coins, called staters (a unit of weight), were made of a natural combination of gold and silver and ornamented with crude animal likenesses. The Greek island of Aegina issued better-made silver staters about 700 B.C., and the use of coins soon spread throughout the Mediterranean world. The Athenian silver tetradrachma was the main coin from the 6th to the 4th centuries B.C., when the coinage of Alexander the Great replaced it. The Chinese independently developed coins about the same time as the Greeks. The first Roman coins, made of bronze (an alloy of copper and tin), date from the 4th century B.C.; during later Roman times, silver and gold coins were used. During the early Middle Ages, only silver coins were struck in western Europe. The breakup of the Roman Empire decreased the volume of trade, and the use of money diminished. In the 12th and 13th centuries, Genoa and Venice led the commercial revival, and their gold coins became a leading international medium of exchange. In modern times, gold replaced silver throughout most of the world. All monies were defined in terms of gold and bore a definite and fixed relationship to the value of gold. World War I and the Great Depression caused this system to break down, and most nations now no longer use gold coins. In the United States, the early colonists used the Native Americans' wampum, shell beads formed into belts, as money. Many different European coins circulated in the American colonies, but their value fluctuated widely from place to place. The Massachusetts Bay Colony produced the first American coins in 1652. The first U.S. Mint was established at Philadelphia in 1792, and its first coins date from the following year. U.S. coins have existed in their present metallic state longer than any other coins used today. Many different types of coins have been struck in the course of the history of the United States, and they are still legal tender (though their value to collectors naturally exceeds their face value). Gold coins were used until 1933, when the government discontinued their use in domestic and foreign commerce.

Coin collecting [next] [back] Ferdinand Julius Cohn

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