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Coin of the Realm


Dig down in your pocket or under the couch cushions and retrieve a penny, a nickel, a dime and a quarter. Brush away the lint and the cheesy poofs, and compare the four coins. What do the penny and nickel have in common that the others don't? If you look real close, you'll see that the penny and nickel both have smooth edges, while the quarter and dime (and all other US coins) have serrated edges. Why is that?

Back in the good old days when coins were made out of silver and gold and actually had intrinsic value, some of the more diligent crooks would file or clip the edges off coins. If they worked at it long enough and had access to enough coins, they could collect the valuable silver and gold chips and then palm the defaced coin for its face value, making a tidy little profit. Milled edges proved to be an excellent deterrent to this little scam, safeguarding the integrity of the legal weight of the coin by making it obvious to the recipient whether or not the coin had been tampered with. If a silver dollar had a smooth edge, a banker or merchant would know that some coin-shaving miscreant had been up to no good and could refuse to accept it. Around 1965 the United States, in the face of declining silver supplies, eliminated the silver content of their coins, and gold was used only for medals or commemorative coins aimed at investors. Today, there is really no practical need for the serrated edges to remain on dimes, quarters, half dollars and "silver" dollars, but out of custom, or maybe just inertia, they're still there. *

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