20 Cent Pieces

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The 20 cent coin is the shortest-lived series in the history of US coinage. The US Mint struck these coins between 1875 and 1876 for circulation, those struck between 1877 and 1878 were only proofs for collectors.

The 20 cent pieces came into existence citing several reasons, such as a shortage of small change in the far west, Congress’ anxiety to convert more silver into coin, and the interest of the US to align its currency with the Latin Monetary Union. The Philadelphia Mint, the Carson City Mint, and the San Francisco Mint were chosen to strike these coins.

Featuring a nearly identical design and only a slight difference in size from US quarters, the newly issued 20 cent coin caused a lot of confusion among the public that led to widespread mistakes in change making. Although the US quarter dollars had reeded edges, and to avoid any confusion the 20 cent pieces featured smooth edges, its similarities with the former became the prime reason for its short life.

In 1877, the director of the US Mint authorized the melting of approximately 12,359 of these coins at the Carson City Mint, which included almost the entire mintage of 1876. Hence the 1876 CC 20 cent pieces are quite rare, with fewer than two dozen known to exist. Although legislation to abolish this coin was introduced in July 1876, Congress officially ended this denomination and the 20 cent piece on May 2, 1878.

Design of the Coin:

The obverse of the coin features a low relief adaptation of Sully-Gobrecht-Hughes’ design by the Chief Engraver of the US Mint, William Barber. The image depicts Lady Liberty seated on a rock wearing a Phrygian cap on her head, holding a staff in one hand, and a shield which bears the word “Liberty” lying next to her besides the rock. She is surrounded by thirteen stars to depict the 13 original colonies, with the year of mintage at the bottom. The reverse features the eagle originally designed by William Barber for the Trade Dollar and has the inscriptions “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and “TWENTY CENTS” around the border.


The San Francisco Mint struck the 1875 20 cent coin, and the proof coins it minted have the “S” mint mark and are believed to be one of the rarest coins in existence. The 1876 Carson City coins are also rare, as almost all of these coins were melted in 1877 and fewer than two dozen are believed to have survived. They have the mint mark "CC". The Philadelphia Mint coins do not bear any mint’s mark, but it produced the lowest number of coins among all three of the mints, with a total mintage of only 55,600 coins.

Investing in U.S. 20 cent coins:

The pre-1965 coins, also known as junk coins, have a great investment appeal. These coins are made of 90% silver and have massively popular designs. The 20 cent pieces also belong to this pre-1965 category. As a result of the melting down of these coins due to their abolishment by Congress, and their short minting span of only four years, the 20 cent piece is an exceedingly rare coin. This coin has the three top factors which collectors look for in a coin: rarity, historical significance, and popularity. Apart from its numismatic appeal, these coins, due to their silver content, also help in diversifying an investment portfolio.