Classic American Coins – Why I Love 1920s Coins

By Littleton Coin Company ………..

Also known as the “Roaring Twenties” or “Jazz Age”, the 1920s are memorable for many reasons, including prohibition, gangsters, flapper girls, speakeasy, and bathtub gin! But they also stand out for their beautiful and beloved American currency. In fact, every denomination – from the penny to the $20 gold coin – featured an acclaimed design by a prominent sculptor, thanks to the President’s efforts. Theodore Rooseveltwho encouraged the nation’s top artists to redesign American coins in the early 20th century.

Finding Valuable Pieces in Change

A few of these acclaimed designs could still be found in circulation when I was young, and I remember receiving a few Buffalo Nickels, Dimes of Mercury and Liberty Walking half dollars in exchange. Although I know very little about the art, these designs were special – and they certainly stood out among portrait coins like the Roosevelt penny, Washington quarter, and Franklin half dollar. I even kept the old classic pieces for a while…until the urge to spend them got too strong!

Learn more about these classics

When I went to work for a coin company later in life, I learned that the iconic Old West images on the Buffalo nickel were created by a prominent carver. James Earl Fraser, who grew up on the frontier. And I found out that the dimes of Mercury and the halves of Liberty Walking were designed by a renowned sculptor A. A. Weinman. Yet these are just a few of the classic designs of the 1920s.

The loved one Lincoln penny with his revered portrait of abraham lincoln by Victor David Brenner was the first US coin in circulation to depict a real person. the Standing Liberty Quarter by the sculptor Hermon A. MacNeil bore an acclaimed full figure image of Liberty and a flying eagle. And the beautiful Peace silver dollar by the sculptor Anthony of Francisci presented a contemporary image of freedom that reflected the youthful spirit of the Roaring Twenties.

Art celebrated in precious gold

The 1920s also represented the last full decade of American gold coins in circulation. Sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt’s famous incuse (or indented) Indian head designs were found on the last US $2.50 and $5 gold coins in circulation from 1908-1929. And Auguste Saint-Gaudens, widely considered the greatest American sculptor of the early 20th century, created stunning designs for the last $10 and $20 gold coins in circulation from 1907-1933. These designs by Saint-Gaudens are widely considered to be the finest ever to appear on U.S. coinage.

Classic American Commemorative Coins

The 1920s was also an active decade in the classic 1892-1954 era of US Commemorative Coin, and many of these special issues were struck during the twenties. State anniversaries were marked for Maine, Missouri, Alabama, California and Vermontwhile other commemorative coins honored pilgrimsthe Battles of Lexington and Concordthe 150th anniversary of American independence and other milestones.

A decade that changed America

The 1920s were a decade of great change in American culture and society. The country was experiencing prosperity never seen before, people were making more money and working fewer hours, and entertainment and recreation for the first time became an important part of American life…

Radios and cinemas are multiplying, jazz is all the rage in speakeasys and the Charleston is revolutionizing the dance floor. Easy credit facilitated the purchase of time-saving appliances like the washing machine, vacuum cleaner and refrigerator, as well as the automobile, which went from a luxury to a necessity for Americans during the crazy years.

Coin purchasing power in the 1920s

In addition to featuring America’s most popular designs, American coins circulating in the 1920s would buy far more than in modern times. A nickel from Buffalo bought a cup of coffee, a penny from Mercury bought a bleacher seat at a major league baseball game, a quarterback from Standing Liberty got you a gallon of gas for your Ford Model Tand a Liberty Walking half dollar bought movie tickets for you and a date.

The best of American currency

Since different coin denominations shared the same designs in the 19th century, and coins since the early 20th century have featured portraits of prominent Americans, I consider the 1920s to be the best decade for American coinage!

Do you collect any of these beloved pieces from the early 20th century? Please share your favorites and recommendations with other collectors.


Littleton Coin Company is a leading national supplier of coins, paper money and collectibles. Since 1945, they’ve made collecting fun and easy. For more information on the Littleton Coin Company or the Collector Stories contest, visit

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