Money really is fascinating

Published 12:31 am Saturday, July 9, 2011

When was the last time you took a good look at the currency in your coin purse or billfold? It is always nice to have change in your pocket and at least a few bills on hand. Think about it. Besides its usefulness, money is really fascinating.

My husband and I started collecting those new quarters with the reverse sides depicting state emblems when the mints began releasing them in 1999. I decided to check out each of those emblems to learn the reason for their selections.

My very favorite one became, not surprisingly, the Alabama quarter, with Helen Keller on the reverse side, representing the “Spirit of Courage.” Above her name imprinted on the coin is her name repeated in Braille. Some years after it came out, I bought a necklace someone had made from one of the coins.

In 1909, 100 years after his birth, President Abraham Lincoln’s likeness was printed on a 1-cent coin, making him the first real person to appear on a regular issue American coin. The first person who was still living to appear on a coin was none other than an Alabama governor, Thomas Kilby. It was a commemorative coin minted in 1921.

Have you ever noticed that all the portraits on our United States currency bills are of men? There was an exception a long time ago –1886 and 1891. President George Washington’s wife Martha’s portrait appeared on the face of the $1 silver certificate in those years.

Did you know that there was once a half-dime coin? It was about the same size as a dime. And speaking of those 5-cents pieces we know as nickels, there was a time when a nickel really wasn’t a nickel. During World War Two from 1942 to 1945, nickel was needed for the war effort, so the United States Mint made the 5-cent coin from an alloy of 56 percent copper, 35 percent silver and 9 percent manganese.

The buffalo, or bison, was the first animal to appear on a circulating coin. Previously, there had only been an eagle.

Do you wonder what “E Pluribus Unum” that appears on our money means? It means “one from many,” relating to a country made from many states. The motto on our currency, “In God We Trust,” first appeared on coins in 1864. The silver certificate was the first paper currency printed with the motto.

If you visit the Philadelphia Mint, you will see a mounted eagle on display. Pete, the mint eagle, was befriended by the mint employees and lived at the mint from 1830 to 1836.

Just for fun, here’s a money question. You can find the answer if you have a $100 bill handy. On the bill’s back, to what time do the hands of the clock in the steeple at Independence Hall point? If you don’t know the answer, and you just spent your last $100 bill, the answer is 4:10.