What Is The History Of Coins

Throughout history, coins have been super important to people. They started being a big deal when towns began and folks started swapping things. At first, they traded goods or services directly for what they wanted. But then, around the 5th or 6th century BCE, coins came into play as a way to pay for stuff. However, where the first coin was used is still a bit of a mystery.


This swapping system had issues. If you didn’t have something the other person wanted, you couldn’t trade. According to Adam Smith, who's like the dad of modern economics, this problem got worse as people got better at specific jobs. They relied more on others to make what they couldn’t.


There were other problems too. It was hard to figure out how much stuff was worth when trading. Plus, some things would spoil quickly, so it was tough to save up. To fix these problems, societies made coins and money. Even now, in today’s world, we use coins and money to buy stuff. But now, they're not just for buying things – people collect coins and use them to invest.


You can learn about the history of coins, how they're made, their designs, and more by clicking on different time periods below.


The History Of Ancient And Medieval Coins


The history of ancient and medieval coins spans a vast timeline, showcasing the evolution of currency and commerce throughout various civilizations. Here's an overview:


The First Coins Found In The World


In the history of the Western world, the earliest discovered coins were found in what's now Turkey, which was called the Lydian Kingdom in ancient times. These coins, dating back to around 700 B.C., were not made using complex machines. They were actually a natural mix of gold and silver called electrum.


To distinguish these coins from other minerals, the Lydians carved designs on one side and made indents on the other side. This was probably a way to make the currency unique. It's believed that these coins were weighed to figure out how much they were worth. This method was used because it was difficult to create a consistent design for all the coins. Also, these coins varied in shape and size since they were used as they naturally appeared.


The Romans


Starting around 27 BC, the Romans changed how they valued their coins. Instead of the worth being based on the weight of the coin, it was now based on the value printed on it. This marked a move towards what we now call "fiat money." This shift allowed the Romans to reduce the amount of precious metals in their coins, decreasing their value over time. For instance, even if a coin said it was worth $5, if its gold content dropped from 90% to 25%, its actual worth decreased.  The Romans used copper, bronze, silver, and gold to make their coins. In the beginning, they had various coin denominations: 


  • 400 copper coins were equal to 100 bronze coins, which were equal to 25 silver coins, which were equal to 1 gold coin (27 B.C. - 212 A.D.).
  • Later, the value changed: 1000 coins made of less valuable metals were equal to 40 bronze coins, 10 silver coins, or 1 gold coin (294 - 312 A.D.).
  • Eventually, the denominations were 180 bronze coins for 24 silver coins, which were equal to 1 gold coin (312 A.D. onwards), with a smaller amount of gold in each coin (1/72 lb. of Gold).


Ancient Chinese Coins


During the time when the Lydians were making their coins, Ancient China was also getting into coin-making. But before coins, they used sea snail shells called cowries as currency during the Shang Dynasty. Later, they started using pieces of gold stamped with the names of Chinese cities. Following this, various metal knives were used as money.

It wasn't until around 220 BC that coin money became popular across China. Most of these Chinese coins had a square or round hole in the center. This was done on purpose so that people could tie them together with a string or wire, making it easier to carry them around.


The History Of The Industrial Era Coins


The Industrial Era marked a significant shift in coin production and usage, characterized by advancements in technology and industrialization that revolutionized the minting process. Here's an overview of the history of coins during this period:


Hammered Coins


In ancient times until around 1550 AD, making coins involved a method called "hammered coinage." It was a slow process where a piece of metal was struck between two dies. Sometimes, two people were needed—one to hammer the metal and the other to hold the dies. Later on, they started using metal sheets of the right size to make multiple coins at once. This was because there was a growing need for more coins used in business.


However, making multiple coins together caused issues. The coins became more similar in appearance, making it easier to counterfeit them. Since none of the coins had the exact intended diameter and were not perfectly round, people could clip off some of the precious metals from the edges. This created a need for a better method.


It wasn't until the Renaissance and the industrial era that technology advanced enough to create a more improved way of making coins.


Milling Coins


During the Industrial Revolution, a method called "milled coinage" or "milled edge coins" became popular. This process involved using machines to create coins. At that time, the Watt steam engine was invented and it played a crucial role in various manufacturing industries. With more people working in factories, there was a higher demand for coins.


Matthew Boulton, an investor, utilized the steam engine to power a machine for making coins. This innovation led to a significant development - Boulton secured a contract to produce coins for the East India Company. Additionally, he gained another contract to supply machines to the British Royal Mint.


Casting Coins


Casting coins was a different way of making coins in ancient times. Instead of hammering metal between dies, this method involved pouring melted metal into a ready-made mold. It was popular in Asia and had advantages over the "hammering method."


With casting, you could make up to a dozen coins from one mold in a single go, unlike the "hammering method" that produced just one coin per strike. This process also resulted in cleaner, more refined coins. This made it harder to create fake coins or remove bits of precious metal from them, reducing fraud.


Coins In The Modern World


Coins continue to play an essential role in the modern world despite the prevalence of digital transactions. They serve various purposes and hold significance in different aspects of daily life, economics, and culture.


Collecting Coins


Over time, coins have fascinated people because of their shiny and unique appeal. In today's world, many folks collect coins just because they enjoy them. Some coins are made to honor significant events, people, or groups. When these special coins are announced, many people eagerly queue up to own a piece of that history.


No matter the budget, there's something for everyone interested in starting a coin collection. It could be an annual proof set or a rare gold coin - there's a wide range of choices for today's collectors.


Coins As An Investment


Today, coins have become more than just a way to buy things or collectibles. With the rising popularity of stocks over the past 150 years, investing in coins has also gained attention. People now acquire coins for their numismatic value (value to collectors) or their worth in precious metals.


Investors can benefit by considering the precious metal content of coins. The market prices of metals like gold, silver, and others are compared to what a specific coin contains, offering a clear way to measure potential gains.


On the other hand, investing in coins for their numismatic value is a bit more complex. Various factors come into play here, such as the type of coin, its date, condition (grade), design, how many were made (mintage), and how desirable the coin is overall. All these elements can influence the coin's value.


The Metal Content In Coins Today  


In modern times, many coins used today don't have much, if any, silver or gold. Take, for instance, the Kennedy Half-Dollar in the United States. It was introduced in 1964 to honor President Kennedy after his assassination. Initially, it contained 90% silver and 10% copper. But by the next year, the silver was reduced to about 40%. Eventually, in 1971, all the silver was removed from the Half-Dollar. Similar changes have happened to various other U.S. coins over time. 


The government realized that the metal value in these coins became more valuable than the face value stated on them. That's why the composition of U.S. coins has changed. 


Another example is the penny. Many believe it's made of copper, but since 1982, pennies have been 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper. Before that, they were 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc. The older pennies have a melt value of 0.0144, meaning that theoretically, people could get a bit more value by melting these pennies for their copper content, though it's a small difference.




The history of coins showcases the evolution of human societies and their economic systems. From the earliest forms of irregularly shaped pieces made of precious metals to the standardized, round coins we use today, coins have played a crucial role in facilitating trade, commerce, and cultural exchange.


Throughout history, coins have not only been a means of conducting transactions but have also served as symbols of power, cultural expression, and historical documentation. They reflect the artistic, political, and technological advancements of different civilizations.