Cash is rapidly becoming a thing of the past for many people — who needs filthy bits of paper when we have credit cards and Venmo? So it’s not unthinkable that all those coins and notes could, one day, be phased out. More immediately realistic, of course, is the retirement of the penny, a move people have been calling for since the late 1980s, with proponents including former President Barack Obama. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time the U.S. government has taken currency out of circulation, as this list shows.
The Half-Cent Coin
Date Introduced: 1792
Date Removed from Circulation: 1857
Why We Don’t Use It Anymore: The smallest denomination ever minted in the U.S., the half-penny frequently fell in and out of circulation due to lack of use since, much like today’s penny, people grew tired of carrying around such a “worthless” piece of currency. Oddly enough, though, a nice lookin’ 1793 half-penny could land you $13,000 today.
2¢ Coin, 3¢ Trime and Half Dime
Date Introduced: 2¢ Coin 1864, Trime 1851, Half Dime 1792
Date Removed from Circulation: 1873
Why We Don’t Use Them Anymore: Prior to 1873, if you found a chunk of gold or silver, you could take it into the U.S. Mint and have it turned into tradeable currency at no cost. However, as Americans began hoarding precious metals during the Civil War (a wartime trend, as we’ll soon discover), Congress enacted The Mint Act of 1873 to stabilize the economy. This act recalled all low-denomination coins of high precious metal density, such as the copper 2¢ coin and the silver 3¢ trime and half dime, while introducing the lower-density coins (i.e., coins made of less valuable materials) of the same denominations, like the nickel-laden nickel, that you still see today.
Date Introduced: 1865
Date Removed from Circulation: 1890
Why We Don’t Use It Anymore: The 3¢ nickel was pretty popular in the post-Mint Act world. But once the bigger, more decimal system-friendly 5¢ nickel came into circulation, no one cared to use the 3¢ nickel anymore, and it was finally abolished a few years later.
Date Introduced: 1875
Date Removed from Circulation: 1878
Why We Don’t Use It Anymore: The 20¢ piece was introduced to alleviate the shortage of small coins in the Western U.S. — a problem actually caused by the The Mint Act of 1873. But the coin looked and felt almost exactly the same as the 25¢ quarter, which caused so much chaos and confusion that it was abolished within just three years.
The Gold Dollar
Date Introduced: 1849
Date Removed from Circulation: 1889
Why We Don’t Use It Anymore: An overabundance of gold entering the market forced the Gold Dollar into circulation during the California Gold Rush of 1849. However, during the Civil War and its ensuing economic hardships, so many people hoarded these gold coins that many of them never saw circulation again. With so many disappearing from circulation entirely, the government decided to stop production.
Date Introduced: 1854
Date Removed from Circulation: 1889
Why We Don’t Use It Anymore: Remember the Gold Dollar? Also being a nice, shiny gold coin, this guy suffered the same fate at the hands of hoarders.
The Golden Eagles: $2.50 Quarter Eagle; $5 Half Eagle; $10 Eagle; $20 Double Eagle
Date Introduced: 1792
Date Removed from Circulation: 1929
Why We Don’t Use It Anymore: The Eagle Series of coins — a gold-only denomination — began to disappear from circulation during World War I, along with any other coinage that still had real gold in it. (Once again, people really dig hoarding gold.) They disappeared entirely in 1933, however, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt, believing that the hoarding of gold was making the Great Depression worse, recalled the Eagles and made it illegal to own any gold coins in Executive Order 6102, thus halting the production of the Eagle coin series.
Fractional Currency: 3, 5, 10, 15, 25 and 50-Cent Notes
Date Introduced: 1862
Date Removed from Circulation: 1876
Why We Don’t Use It Anymore: Fractional currency came with the outbreak of the Civil War as — and we may have mentioned this already — metal coins were hoarded for their precious metal values. From 1862 to 1876, the United States government circulated these notes to replace the hoarded metal coinage, which sounded like a good idea at the time.
However, since this was prior to The Mint Act of 1873, people were still able to just turn any chunks of silver or gold they had into money. These coins had more intrinsic value than their paper counterparts — especially thanks to the economic uncertainty from a war-shaken U.S. government — which led to people refusing to exchange metal currency for paper. And as the post-Civil War economy stabilized, fractional currency fell completely out of circulation.
Date Introduced: 1862 (reintroduced 1976)
Date Removed from Circulation: 1966
Why We Don’t Use It Anymore: Actually, we do! Sort of. Although rare to the point where it’s often mistaken as being out of circulation (with sometimes dire results), the $2 bill is still being printed by the U.S. Treasury today. After being discontinued in 1966 due to low use, it came back from the dead only 10 years later — as both a cost-saving venture and a way to fill the void between the $1 and $5.
Despite the Treasury starting out by injecting 400 million of the bills into the economy annually, the general public met the release of the new $2 bill with curiosity, and chose to collect them rather than spend them. Between this and the fact that businesses rarely requested them from banks, the Treasury decided to slow production, meaning they’re far less common than other denominations — there are around nine times more $1 bills in circulation, on average, than $2 bills. Fun fact: If, for some reason, you want to buy uncut sheets of $2 bills from the Treasury for decoration or spending, you totally can.
The Large Denominations: $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 bills
Date Introduced: 1861
Date Removed from Circulation: Technically 1969, though they’re still usable as legal tender
Why We Don’t Use It Anymore: “We” don’t use these anymore, but if you’re a lucky reader who has a $1,000 bill laying around, you definitely still can. According to Slate, there are 336 $10,000 bills, 342 $5,000 bills and 165,372 $1,000 bills known to exist on the market as of 2009. And if that sounds like a lot, just compare it to the 9.5 billion $1 bills that are normally in circulation.
Originally the bills fell out of favor due to their low use, which led to the Treasury halting production in 1945. In 1969, Richard Nixon took things a step further and demanded the Federal Reserve pull them out of circulation entirely, arguing that large bills were both easier to launder and to stuff into a briefcase for an easy getaway. If you do have one of those $10,000 bills hanging around, hold onto it: As baller as you might feel dropping it on the counter at a car dealership, but you can get a much better bargain by auctioning it for upwards of $180,000 on the open market.