Public Confusion

As the twenty-cent piece made its way into public commerce, concerns about the design became apparent. Early reports warned of the similarity between the twenty-cent piece and quarter dollar. These similarities and the resulting confusion, of course, could have been easily predicted by merchants of the day.

Samples of the new 20-cent coin were received in this city this morning from the Carson Mint. The officers of that Mint were anxious to make the first coin of this description on the Pacific Coast, and, accordingly, had everything in readiness upon the arrival of the dies from Washington. The first coins were struck on the 1st of June. The new coin has heretofore been minutely described. It is of course a little smaller than the Quarter Dollar, and has the words “Twenty Cents” in place of the words “Quar. Dol.”; otherwise there is but little difference in the general appearance of the two coins. Some care will be necessary in receiving change not to take them for more than their face value. The new coin has a clean look, and was probably made from Consolidated Virginia bullion.

San Francisco Evening Bulletin
June 4, 1875

It only took a few months before it was apparent that the silver twenty-cent piece would only see success if the quarter dollar was retired. The lack of edge reeding and a different eagle on the reverse were not enough to overcome the similarity in size. The general populace places more emphasis on the coin’s diameter than small differences in design elements. This preference would be revisited a little over a century later when the Susan B. Anthony dollar would be confused with the similarly-sized quarter dollar.

Some surprise has been expressed at the continued absence of 20-cent pieces from circulation. They never will assume a prominent piece in our financial system so long as 25-cent pieces are used. Withdraw these, and again authorize the issue of 5-cent pieces, and the double dime will take its place in the currency system of our country.

San Francisco Bulletin (published as Daily Evening Bulletin)
November 1875

Within a short time, coining of the twenty-cent piece stopped and it was apparent to many that the denomination was never needed nor would have ever been accepted.

    As the merchants of the Pacific Coast decline to handle the 5 cent nickel coins, we do not think it would be asking too much to request Congress to conger the necessary authority for the coinage of a limited number of Half Dimes for use in the Pacific States and Territories. Perhaps if we had nickel mines of New Jersey, we should be content to abandon the Half Dime. But we have an abundance of raw material for these coins, and “there’s millions” to the Government in their manufacture, if only enough of them are made.
    We understand that the coinage of the Double Dime has been discontinued. The coin was designed for use on the Pacific Coast, and those who were instrumental in having incorporated in the currency system of the country doubtless thought they were conferring a great favor on parties suffering from California “bit” swindles. The coinage of these pieces was commenced in June 1875, and ceased with the close of the last fiscal year.
    Most of these pieces were made at the San Francisco Mint, but all attempts to work them into circulation here have failed. Had the Quarter Dollars been demonetized at the time the Double Dimes were introduced, the latter might have been a success. Government still retains most of these coins, and their ultimate destiny is the melting pot. So much for the Double Dime experiment.

San Francisco Bulletin (published as Daily Evening Bulletin)
August 1876

Before the silver lunatics begin their attempt to remonetize the old dollar, we trust Congress will find time to demonetize and speedily retire from circulation the new twenty-cent piece. There never was any necessity for its coinage, and it serves no useful purpose except to unscrupulous small dealers who find it an almost infallible aid in cheating unwary customers in making change. It resembles the quarter so closely in size and appearance that persons are sure to be deceived by it unless they are on their guard. We do not know what experimenter on the public patience in the Treasury or the mints invented this innovation on the good old system of half-dimes, dimes, quarters and halves, but whoever he may be we can assure him that the public is sick of his invention.

New York Daily Tribune
October 1877

Another act of legislation was the demonetization of the Double Dime. This bill was approved by the President on or about the 2d of May. This coin first found a place in our system in 1875. It was a Pacific coast measure, and it was supposed that it would put an end to our “short” and “long bit” swindles. Perhaps that result would have been accomplished if the Quarter Dollar had been removed. The Mints coined $270,858 in Double Dimes, but as nobody wanted them, very few ever got into circulation. And those that did find their way out resulted in more petty swindles, in proportion to the amount in circulation than can be justly charged to the “bit system.” The principal loss to the Government by the Double Dime was from their re-coinage. It took Congress about three years to find out its mistake, or at least that time elapsed before it was corrected.

San Francisco Bulletin (published as Daily Evening Bulletin)
June 1878

Even as late as 1889 opinions were still running strong that the denomination was a mistake and its introduction into daily commerce caused far more strife than good.

The Double Dime was a Nevada production, and intended to neutralize the production of the “long and short bit,” but was a failure from the start. It was introduced in 1875, and most of the amount coined was confined to that year. No coin ever caused more profanity, because it was so often taken for a Quarter, to the discomfort of the receiver.

San Francisco Bulletin (published as Daily Evening Bulletin)
July 1889

The silver twenty-cent piece has the shortest lifespan of any regular issue denomination in United States history. Even before it made its way into the pockets and purses of the average citizen it was disliked. The confusion brought about by its similarity to the quarter dollar did not endear it to the public and certainly helped fuel its quick demise. It seems that the only true supporters of the twenty-cent piece were Senator Jones and Mint Director H. R. Linderman.

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