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Why are U.S. coins not numeric? How would you expect visitors know what a “dime” stands for as an example?!

Asked by Beth on Facebook.

Reverse side of a dime

U.S. coins list the amount on the reverse side of the coin. For example, a penny says “one cent” on the back and a nickel says “five cents.” But why does the dime says “one dime” instead of “ten cents”?

According to the U.S. Mint, the inscription “one dime” first appeared on the coin in 1837. The word dime is based on the Latin word “decimus,” meaning “one tenth.” The French used the word “disme” (pronounced the same as it is today) when they came up with the idea of money divided into ten parts in the 1500s.

Before the introduction of the nickel (5-cent coin), the U.S. actually had a half dime coin, with the words “half dime” inscribed on it. We checked with the U.S. Mint and they think that the use of “one dime” could have simply been a common inscription between the two coins.

Designs chosen for U.S. circulating coins are generally mandated by Congress and the law specifies that certain words and images must appear. Learn more about what’s required and the process for changing the design of a coin.