Many millions of coins have been minted throughout history, and we’ve done our best to come up with some of the most beautiful and intriguing ones. Note that the “heads” side of a coin is called the “obverse” while the “tails” side is called the “reverse.”
10. 50 Centavos Leper Colony Coin Colombia, 1921
Photo credit: Jerry Woody
Most people probably don’t know much about leprosy, because it hasn’t been portrayed accurately in media. Leprosy, now known as Hansen’s disease, is actually very difficult to contract from someone. Nevertheless, it is a A Guide Book of United... Best Price: $4.05 Buy New $60.99 (as of 09:35 EST - Details) serious disease and was feared to the point where people were placed in leper colonies to keep them away from the general public. In some cases, special coinage was minted for fear that the infected might spread the disease through physical contact.
While these coins are not beautiful by any standard, they are quite interesting, because they were minted and circulated only in leper colonies in Colombia. Colombia had three leper colonies where this type of coin was circulated. For reasons of sanitation, the coins would be washed regularly, sometimes as often as weekly, wearing them down much more quickly than regular coins. Because of the repeated washing, leper colony coins are rarely found in good shape, so collectors prize any that don’t show a significant amount of wear.
Leprosy coinage was also used in Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Korea, Nigeria, Thailand, and Venezuela, from roughly 1901–52.
9. 1804 Silver Dollar US
Photo via Wikipedia
Considered by many to be the most notorious coin in existence, the 1804 silver dollar is not at all what it seems. The story goes that the US Mint struck 20,000 1804 silver dollars with the previous year’s plate, which ended up stamping the year 1803 on them by mistake. The Mint stopped making silver dollars for three decades until President Jackson ordered a copy of each coin in circulation to be given as a gift to the King of Siam (Thailand). The Mint struck a small amount of 1804 silver dollars, with “1804″ stamped on them. This was technically wrong, since the originals had 1803.
The coins became valuable as a result, so a counterfeiter named Theodore Eckfeldt struck several and sold them to a coin store in Philadelphia from 1858–60. All of them had the date 1804, not 1803. The Mint figured out what was going on and tracked down and destroyed all of the coins except for one. The last 1804 Silver Dollar in existence is considered to be one of the most valuable coins in the world and resides at the Smithsonian Institution, even though it is technically a counterfeit coin.
8. No Cents ‘V’ Nickel US, 1883
Photo via Wikipedia
Given the opportunity, people can take advantage of others for financial gain. (Shocking, isn’t it?) It happens all the time, and one of the most notable instances of this has to do with a nickel that was minted by the US in 1883. The Official Blackbook... Best Price: $4.06 (as of 09:50 EST - Details) Sporting a large, Roman-numeral five (“V”) on the obverse instead of the words “Five Cents,” the value of the coin was somewhat ambiguous. These nickels happened to be about the same size and appearance as the then-circulating $5 Liberty gold coin, so some people tried gold-plating the 1883 no-cents Liberty nickels and passing them off as the $5 gold coins. The US Mint eventually caught on and added the words “Five Cents” to the obverse of the Liberty nickel to combat the ongoing scam.
There is a story of a man named Josh Tatum, who would gild nickels, purchase five-cent items in a store, and pay for them with the false coins, receiving $4.95 in change. He was eventually tried in court for fraud, having made an estimated $15,000 from his scheme. All charges were dismissed, because it couldn’t be proven that he ever asked anyone for change. There is some argument over whether or not this story is true, since it only surfaced in the 1960s. Interestingly, his name has been linked to the origin of the idiom, “You’re joshing me” as a means of saying that you are trying to fool someone, though this is likely not the true origin of the saying.