Why do coins have dates on them?

Well, obviously so you know when the coin was minted.

But why is that important?

My WAG would be so the mint can keep track of how many coins are out there. Say they minted one million quarters in 1960, as old 1960 quarters wear out, and return, they can track how many remain.

For collectors. The collector market for coins and stamps basically provides a free currency float for the government. That’s the same reason for the issue of the state quarters. If you collect all 50 and put them in a little folder forever, that’s $12.50 that you gave the government that they’re never going to have to pay back. With year/mint sets, it’s even better.

Well then, the Mint should use coinage to run one of those “Monopoly match” contests like McDonald’s does, with a chance to win fabulous prizes. Just think of the money the public wouldn’t spend then.

Hey, better yet, make coins with hidden spikes that spring out and plunge into your flesh. That’ll keep them out of circulation.

Feh! I say it’s high time we stopped coddling the powerful numismatic lobby, with their fancy cars, and oculars, who think they can buy off our politicians with brimming buckets of money (preferably 1909-S V.B.D. wheat pennies, in good or very good condition).

Obviously you haven’t been following the news in Ohio – it’s not so far-fetched for the “numismatic lobby” to be caught misappropriating public funds and buying off politicians.

The thing is, this practice far pre-dates the time in history when our government(s) started caring about keeping track of things in such detail.

U.S. coins have had their year of mintage on them since the Philadelphia Mint went into regular production in 1794.

My guess is, putting the year on the coin had a much more practical use for the user of the coin: If you knew which year your coins were minted in, you knew what laws were in effect at the time regarding how much silver or gold was in the coin. (E.g. silver coins minted before the Act of 1837 had more silver in them than coins minted afterward.) Back when a “coin” was the government’s stamp to guarantee that the disk contained a certain amount of precious metal, such things were important.

No deal.

You want my help on Capitol Hill? You make sure each of those 1909-S VDB cents is slabbed and graded at a minimum Uncirculated MS-62 condition.

And make sure the bucket you carry 'em in is velvet-lined. I don’t want any scratches in those plastic slabbing cases.

Mmm. Interesting theory.

tracer’s explanation is right-- it’s the guarantee that the government made the coin according to the law of the time.

There are certain years (such as 1853 and 1873) that the government changed how much silver each coin contained, so it was obvious that coins before that year were worth more in silver and coins later had less silver. In the transition years, they added arrows around the date to show the coins had the new silver amount.

The famous Maria Teresa thaler from Austria is interesting, in that it widely circulated throughout the Middle East, but always with the date 1780. When the date changed, the coins were refused, since only “1780” coins were trusted to be the right amount of silver. The solution: keep making them with the 1780 date.

Originally it was for tax collection. My understanding is that back in the day, all the coins in circulation would be periodically recalled. People would be then forced to exchange their coins for a smaller amount of new coins and the old coins would be recast.

It brings up the question of what the old devalued coins would be worth. I don’t know.

I’m skeptical. The logistics of periodic coin recalls would be awful, surely. I mean I’m willing to believe it happened once or twice in human history, but still.

I’d say the free market decides the value of any coin that’s old enough, or no longer minted. For example the U.S. used to issue one-half cent and three cent coins, but you wouldn’t be able to spend either of them today as real money. Cashiers would look at you funny. You wouldn’t want to spend them anyway, because a coin collector would probably buy them from you for more than their face value.

If you tried to spend coins from the 19th century, the cashiers would look at you funny even if they were of a denomination that’s still in circulation today. Try spending an 1848 large one-cent piece some time and see if your average cashier can even recognize it.

No. That used to be common. In particular when the grade or the weight were changed. Moreover, the kings or lords would even often tax you for changing your old coins for new ones.

Right. As I said, “any coin that’s old enough, or no longer minted.” That includes your example.

Of course, being currently minted isn’t always enough either. Forget the 1848 one-cent piece; try spending a Kennedy half-dollar some time. It’s a toss-up (ha!) whether they’ll recognize it.

God, what a pain for everyone. It’s good to be the king, I guess.

Anyway, I stand corrected. Apologies to pmwgreen.

Of course, U.S. paper money does not contain the date that the bill was printed on. Just the date that the design was approved.


The United States Mint is a division of the federal government, but the U.S. Postal Service is more like a government-owned “company,” and I guess can make and lose money. (Of course, the mint can make money, too, but that’s something different.) I just read a couple of days ago that so many people bought the Elvis stamp that the USPS didn’t have to increase stamp prices that year because of the money they made.

See if your average cashier these days can even count back your change. But that’s another whole thread.

To elaborate on what Bytegeist said, see how many cashiers recognize a brand-new $2.00 bill, a Sacajawea $1.00 coin, or a Kennedy half-dollar. I buy all of these from the bank and give them out in change at my bookstore, just for fun. It’s amazing how many American citizens don’t know what they are. Sometimes I get hold of a roll of Susan B. Anthony $1.00 coins, and some customers refuse to accept them. I might as well be handing out Loonies and Twonies.

And the changes seem very confusing, too. Other than currency redesigns (which the U.S. is currently doing right now), the dates only change when the names of the Treasurer of the U.S. and Secretary of the Treasury change. Series 2001 bills have the signatures of Rosario Marin, treasurer, and Paul O’Neill, secretary. When O’Neill was replaced with John W. Snow, the bills were marked “Series 2003.” I recently saw a dollar bill with the signatures of Anna E. Cabal (replacing O’Neill) and Snow, marked “Series 2003A.” I guess the year only changes if the Secretary is replaced (since his position is more important than the Treasurer’s, depite the Treasurer’s signature appearing first).

Coins are money. One would have to assume even in the 18th century governments kept track of their assets.