OK, coins generally get bigger as the denomination increases, right? nickles are larger than pennies, quarters are larger than nickles, half dollars are larger than quarters, etc. But dimes are almost smaller than pennies! Why aren’ they somewhere between pennies and nickles?

“Boy, sure wish we had one o’ them Doomsday devices”-Gen. Turginson, Dr. Strangelove

Because the metal that a dime is made out of is more valuable than copper and nickel.


For more information you can check out The Federal treasurie’s website. I will post it in a second.

Gasoline: As an accompaniement to cereal it made a refreshing change. Glen Baxter

Sorry about that how about www.usmint.gov .


Gasoline: As an accompaniement to cereal it made a refreshing change. Glen Baxter

Whoops, perhaps your intention on the thread was not why are dimes smaller, but why don’t we make them out of less valuable material in order to make them larger? If that is the case the only answer I have is “tradition”. We made them out of the proper material for the time.


Sorry for the triple post.

Gasoline: As an accompaniement to cereal it made a refreshing change. Glen Baxter

Dimes used to have silver in them and their size was small enough to where the gov’t wasn’t losing money on the bullion value. When silver was removed from our minor coins in 1964, there were already lots vending machines and rather than change all the nations vending machines, we just kept the dime the same size.

Hope that helps.

The generalization that coins get larger as the denomination increases is not always true, as is obvious from the subject of this thread. The biggest exception I know of is the old English penny, which was a very large coin, bigger, IIRC, than any American coin including the silver dollar.

Does anyone know of exceptions where the smaller denomination coin is larger and is made of the same metal?

“Vandelay!! Say Vandelay!!”

Yeh, Puto, the Moolah and the 3/7 Moolah of Moronia. The country went bankrupt in 3 weeks. Course these days when the coins are merely symbolic and not minted from or backed up by any thing of intrensic value any thing is possible. FWIW postage stamps are that way sometimes. What about paper money though, anybody know of any place that has a physically larger bill for smaller denomination? Other countries are a bit smarter on the bill thing than us generally.

“Pardon me while I have a strange interlude.”-Marx

The answers you’ve gotten so far are somewhat scattered, so let me put together a recap.

The key thing to remember is that, although U.S. coins today are basically tokens, originally they were made out of valuable metals, and a coin was a way for the government to certify that it was composed of metals worth the face value of the coin. (Contrary to popular belief, you are allowed to melt down coins if you want to).

Dimes (10 cents), quarter’s (25 cents), half dollars (50 cents) and dollars were generally made out of silver–a silver dollar weighed 10 times as much as a silver dime, and so forth. This meant that a dime came out pretty small, although for a while they even had a 5-cent silver coin, called a “half-dime” which, being half the weigh of a dime, was a somewhat pitiful thing. A silver dollar was pretty hefty, so larger denomination coins were made out of gold.

For the smaller valued coins, less valuable metals were used (for example zinc, copper and nickel) which is why the 1 cent (penny) and 5 cent (nickel) coins are bigger than a dime, since they were made out of cheaper materials.

As other pointed out, in the 1960s the government removed the silver coins from circulation, and replaced them with dimes, quarters, half-dollars, and dollars made of non-valuable metals. But they kept their same size, to make the transition easier. (Later, they also changed the composition of pennies to coated aluminum.)

Note: Pennies are actually copper-plated zinc not aluminum.

Old American pennies (commonly known as the “large cents” were also large like the hulking monsters of England.

As far as dollar bills / paper currency goes, for the most part countries keep their bills the same size. Although early 20th century bills were all larger than our current size (they were called “horse blankets”), so I guess since a 1988 $10 bill was smaller than a 1861-1928 $1 bill that counts.

Also there’s the whole issue of fractional currency and postage currency which came in all different sizes and shapes (well, they were all rectangular I guess). But I don’t think we need to get into that…

In the UK, paper notes are not the same size, they increase with increasing value.
This leads to us Brits in the US having to constantly squint through alcohol hazed eyes to determine what bill we’re handing over.
Australia has the coolest notes, little clear windows in them…v. hard to photocopy!

There’s no rule that coins must get bigger as their denomination does.

£1 - 31.1 mm diameter
20p - 27.1 mm
2p - 25.91 mm
10p - 22 mm
1p - 20.32 mm
5p - 18.5 mm
(couldn’t get current data on the 50p)

50p - 27.30 mm
2p - 25.91 mm
10p - 24.50 mm
£1 - 22.5 mm
20p - 21.40 mm
1p - 20.32 mm
5p - 18 mm

So, why would the US do things any differently?


Another US coinage annomoly:

The Kennedy half-dollar is larger than the Anthony dollar.

In Australia, 5c, 10c, 20c, and 50c coins increase in size with value, but then the $1 and $2 coins decrease in size, being about the size of the 10c and 5c coins, respectively. It was even wonkier up until they phased out 1c and 2c coins about eight or nine years ago…then, in order of size, it was 1c, 5c, $2, 2c, 10c, $1, 20c, 50c. Whee. Oh, and Aus. 5c, 10c, and 20c coins can pass as New Zealand coins of the same value, furthur adding to the fun.

And yeah, “paper” money here’s pretty cool. It’s all plastic, with the little clear windows in the corner. The size differences in notes are quite noticable when you put a $5 note next to a $100 one.

Why does the U.S. have such boring money? It’s all the same size, and it’s all green! Now that I’ve travelled a bit, I can see that in other countries, they have much more interesting cash. Color is not such a bad thing!


Addendum: Thanks to Mr. Sheepshead for pointing out that U.S. cents are coated zinc, not aluminum.

Also, I forgot to mention that they had stopped making silver dollars years before the 1960s elimination of silver in coins, so there never was a large alloy-metal dollar coin. And because few machines took the large dollar coin, and also the old silver dollarrs were so bulky, when the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin was introduced in the late 1970s, it was made significantly smaller than the old silver dollars had been.

Hearing about all of the wonderfully unique money around the world (esp. Australian bills), Kyla brings up an interesting question, why does the U.S. have such boring money?

Numismatists (read: coin nerds) have been complaining about this forever. In the past the mint would say there’s no need to change - people are familiar with the money. Changing the money will only upset people/commerce/etc blah blah blah.

But now high resolution color copiers have entered the arena, and the mint was forced to upgrade our larger bills (in case you weren’t aware new $5 and $10 bills are on the way). But from what I’ve heard/read they kept the same color scheme (black + green) because uh, it’s “American”. We’re used to those colors now and I know whenever you see something on the ground roughly the size of a bill with roughly the right colors, you go and examine closer, don’t you? For the record, older American bills were printed with all sorts of different designs and color schemes.

As far as coins go, you may want to check out info on the new Sacagawea Dollar Coin. It looks strikingly different. And let’s not forget the state quarters.

I like the new bills. I think our currency ought to be serious and boring because it is more important. No, really! The USD is the world’s reserve currency, and a little bit of dignity is in order.

Some other countries have more interesting currency, I’ll admit. But c’mon! France has cartoons on one of its denominations. That’s like buying a HMMMV with a check that has Holly Hobby and a rainbow printed on it. They’ll laugh their heads off at the dealership.

Livin’ on Tums, Vitamin E and Rogaine

let us not forget the 3 cent nickle.US had one of those for a while. It was about midway between the 5 cent nickle and the 2 cents plain, uh, I mean penny (1 cent) we did have a 2 cent copper piece for a while. then there was the eagle and double eagle the 10 and 20 dollar gold piece they were smaller than the silver dollar. Not only are our bills confusing to drunken foreigners , the sightless also have a problem. I am always amazed at how many blind newstand operators there are. Thats my 2 cents worth for now.

“Pardon me while I have a strange interlude.”-Marx

I’m sure I could make this into a successful bar bet somehow: the newer zinc pennies melt on an ordinary stove, whereas the older copper ones do not. I ran several trials in college, believe it or not.

(Not as part of my studies though, but as part of my myriad efforts to find things while avoiding my studies.)


I think that most European countries have bill sizes that get larger as the denomination gets larger. This is certainly true in Spain, France, and the UK.