Half Dimes vs Nickels 4

If you have heard of Half Dimes, you may wonder why there were both half dimes and nickels in the US? They were both worth 5 cents. So what’s the difference?

Half Dimeshalf-dime-reverse

Half Dimes were around back in the beginning of US coins. In fact, the half dime was the first coin minted back in 1792. It was called a Half Disme (pronounced deem), and helped begin the US coin system. The Half Dime would resume in 1795 (with some dates marked 1794).

Half Dimes were made of mostly silver and weighed half as much as dimes back then at 1.35 grams. At 16.5 millimeters in diameter, they would be the smallest circulated denomination coin in the US at the time. The Half Dime would flourish up until the Civil War when people started hoarding their silver coins. This had the government make changes including a copper Two Cent Piece in 1864 and a Three Cent Nickel
in 1865.  After the Civil War, less Half Dimes were being produced.

The Coinage Act of 1873 brought many changes to US coinage including the elimination of the Two Cent Piece, Three Cent Silver, Half Dime and Seated Liberty Dollars. Half Dimes would never return to circulation.


As noted above, the Two Cent Piece and Three Cent Nickel came out during the Civil War, but in 1866, a new denomination would be released, the Nickel. In the US Government’s attempts of eliminating the silver hoarding during and after the war, they decided to make a coin made of 75% copper and 25% nickel. It would be bigger in diameter and thicker than the dime, but would have a smaller denomination at five cents.

So, between 1866 and 1873, the US would have two coins that were worth five cents: the Shield Nickel and the Seated Liberty Half Dime. However, to get the nickel used more, they would produce millions of the Shield Nickel and less than a million of the Seated Liberty Half Dimes each year. The Coinage Act of 1873 was a way to eliminate it since they were trying to get US into a gold standard and reduce the silver coinage.

The nickel has survived since then. In fact, this year marks the 150th anniversary of the US Nickel and it’s still going strong. Ironically,  the nickel would contain silver for a short period of time. During World War II, when nickel was in demand, they made the nickel with 35% silver from 1942 – 1945. After that, it would never see silver again.

So Which One do you Prefer?

The Half Dime was small and thin, but did have silver. The nickel is bigger and thicker and easier to obtain. Which one do you like better?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

4 thoughts on “Half Dimes vs Nickels

  • Summerly

    This is very interesting! I had no idea the history of these coins. Is the half dime called that because it weighed half as much as dimes did back at that time? I find it so interesting the fact that when people started to hoard their silver coins that it made the government make changes and bring into circulation new coins. I like collecting coins so knowing some history is really neat!

    • Kevin Post author

      This is a lot of history behind these coins. Yes, that is how the half dime got its name. I think also that the US was using denominations similar to the British, but haven’t seen anything on a British Half Dime. Thanks for the comment!

  • Andrew

    Wow, I learned so much about the dimes and Nickels though this article! Never know there are such interesting history behind the coins we use everyday. I’m always a fan of collecting coins. really like the images carved on them. it’s art in my eyes. Hmm, Maybe I will like half dimes more, it’s so rare! I actually never saw one. really curious about what image would be on it! haha

    • Kevin Post author

      Thanks Andrew! There is a lot to learn from these coins and I hope more will check this out and get interested. I would think more people would like the half dime for its silver content and rarity and more would like the nickel for the different designs.