Designed by: William Barber (obverse after Christian Gobrecht)
Issued Date: 1875-1878
Composition: 0.900 parts silver, 0.100-part copper
Diameter: 22 mm.
Weight: 77.16 grains
Total Business strike mintage: 1,349,840
Total Proof strike mintage: 5,000
Designed by William Barber, and issued for only four years, the Twenty-Cent Piece was originally proposed for use on the West Coast, where a lack of circulating small change worked to the monetary disadvantage of the buying public. For example, if someone purchased a Ten-cent item with a quarter, they often had to accept either a dime or a Spanish bit (equal to 12 1/2 cents) as their change, since cents and nickels did not circulate on the West Coast. The Twenty Cent Piece seemed like a good solution, but the coin the Mint produced was so similar in appearance to the quarter dollar that the two easily became confused.
Of the 1,354,840 Twenty-Cent Pieces coined, 1,155,000 were produced at the San Francisco Mint in 1875. Only 56,550 were produced at the Philadelphia Mint, which included the final two years of proof-only coinage in 1877 and 1878. Coinage at the Carson City Mint amounted to 143,290 pieces, but of the 10,000 coins dated 1876-CC, all but perhaps 10 or 12 were melted at the mint, making this a classic rarity seldom offered for sale.
The obverse design features Christian Gobrecht’s motif of Miss Liberty seated, stars surrounding, and the date below. The reverse is a new motif by William Barber and depicts a perched eagle, somewhat similar in configuration to that used on the trade dollar, surrounded by UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the denomination expressed as TWENTY CENTS. The edge is plain, unlike other silver denominations of the era.
The type set collector will gravitate toward an example of 1875-S, the issue which is most often seen. Specimens are readily available in grades from Very Good to Extremely Fine. AU pieces will show lightness of impression, particularly on the eagle on the reverse and on the liberty Seated figure and stars on the obverse. Many Philadelphia Mint business strike coins in higher grades exhibit prooflike surfaces. Proofs are available of the four Philadelphia issues 1875 through 1878.