What is a Coin?

A coin is a piece of metal or, less often, other material that is used as money. The sides of a coin carry an image, or symbol, and the name of its country of origin. The side showing the image is called the obverse, or heads; the reverse, tails. A coin can also have a date of minting. Coins are often collected. The collectors’ goal is to obtain a complete set of coins of a particular series. Examples include a collection of Lincoln-head and Indian-head pennies, Buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes, or Liberty dollars.

A coin’s value is based on the amount of gold, silver, or other precious metal it contains. The more precious the metal, the more valuable the coin. But, a coin’s value is not just its weight in precious metal or its metallic content; the coin is also a record of the history of the civilization that produced it. The images and inscriptions on a coin may be unique sources of information about the people, places, or events that the civilization commemorated.

Coins first proliferated nearly three thousand years ago among the Lydians of Anatolia (modern Turkey). The early coins, known as croesids after Lydian King Croesus, were probably made of a natural alloy of gold and silver. They were cast into disks, placed on an anvil, and struck with a die to imprint the obverse and reverse designs on the disks. Each coin had its own unique design. The coins served as a more convenient and durable means of exchange than barter, in which one person gave up something valuable to another for the right to buy food, goods, or services.

Modern coins are made of copper and brass, with a thin layer of silver. The coins are then plated with a gold coating to give them a shiny, attractive appearance. The coating is very durable and will last for hundreds of years. Several different countries make copper and brass coins.

The cost of producing a coin depends on its size, the materials it is made of, and the amount of silver or other precious metals in it. The cost is known as the “seigniorage.” For example, a penny costs about two cents to produce. The higher the denomination of a coin, the more seigniorage it has.

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