Twenty Cent Pieces
In the 1870s, coin shortages in the western United States were severe. To alleviate that shortage, western politicians lobbied for and got approved a new denomination of silver coin. The Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, William Barber, designed a coin that, while 20% smaller than the circulating Quarter Dollar, it resembled it in many ways.
Barber designed a Liberty Seated obverse with an eagle on the reverse, which are the exact elements that the Quarter Dollar also shared. While the Silver interests were happy with the new coins, the American public was not. They were too similar in design and too similar in size and were often confused with the current Quarter. But Congress had authorized these coins, so the Mints began to strike them.
Normally, the Philadelphia Mint leads the way in production, but for this coin, that was not the case. The Silver would have had to be refined and shipped back East for production, so it was easier to ship the metal to San Francisco or send it by railroad or stage coach to nearby Carson City. The Philadelphia Mint struck fewer than 40,000 Twenty Cent Pieces in 1875, the first year of striking. But the Carson City Mint struck nearly 100,000 coins more than Philadelphia did and the San Francisco Mint struck 1,155,000 coins.
Complaints about the coin were coming into the Treasury Department and, more importantly, to Members of Congress. The coins were only Struck at Philadelphia and Carson City in 1876 with a total of less than 25,000 coins combined. In 1877 and 1878, only a few hundred Proof Specimens of each year were struck and those were destined for private collectors and for the United States Mint’s collection.
The crescendo of complaints doomed this experiment to failure after only 4 years of striking and in two of those years the coins were not made for public use.