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How are images chosen for coins?

Close up of many different type of coins with jar.
Jorge Villalba
Close up of many different type of coins with jar.

The U.S. Mint is producing a new series of quarters featuring American women. The first one, featuring poet Maya Angelou, has just been released. We're learning about coins are made and how images are chosen for money around the world. The US has a law preventing any living person from appearing on its money. Kenya has a new rule preventing any individual people on their money at all. Meanwhile, many countries with kings or queens have those leaders on their money while they’re still in power. Questions we tackle in this episode: How are coins made and how do they get their logos? How are presidents chosen for coins? Why does Lincoln have his shoulder in the picture while other presidents don’t? Why are coins different sizes? What are coins made of? We learn more from Rodney Gillis of the American Numismatic Association and Leigh Gordon of the Royal Australian Mint.

Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript

  • Some people like learning about coins so much they collect them! A coin collector is called a numistmatist! Numismatics is the study or collection of coins, paper currency, and medals.
  • The U.S. Mint makes coins for the United States. There are four facilities in the US where our coins are made: San Francisco, Denver, Philadelphia, and West Point, New York.
  • A new image on a coin requires approval from Congress.
  • Australian coins feature kangaroos, koalas and native plants. 
  • U.S. Coins mostly feature former presidents, but some non-presidents have appeared on coins including Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea and Ben Franklin. The reverse side of quarters changes frequently. There are quarters for every state. Over the next four years the U.S. Mint is releasing quarters featuring 20 notable American women.
  • US law says no living person can be pictured on our money.
  • Today, the smallest US coin is a dime. But there used to be something called a trime! It was a tiny 3-cent coin and it was so small and thin that it often got bent in people’s pockets.


Coins for A’s

U.S. Mint Collector’s Corner

How Coins Are Made

Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.

But Why is a project of Vermont Public.

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