Coin Puzzle Answer (The stuff on this webpage was mentioned on page 91 in my book)

In Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything, my grandfather Gumpy gave me a math problem while he was tapping his fingers together. Here’s what it was:

“Let’s say (tap, tap) there’s eighty-three cents in my pocket,” he said. “What’s the fewest number of coins I could have?”

“United States coins?” I asked.

He nodded (tap, tap).

I thought for a few seconds and answered, “Four.”

His forehead wrinkled up like he was surprised at me. “Nope. Six. A half-dollar, a quarter, a nickel, and three pennies.”

But I proved I was right . . . and he was amazed.

Did you figure it out?

Most kids think the correct answer is seven: three quarters, a nickel, and three pennies.

Massachusetts quarter New York quarterCalifornia quarterJefferson nickel

Lincoln centLincoln centLincoln cent

But that’s wrong because most kids don’t even think about a half dollar because they usually never see one. (I can’t remember the last time I held a half dollar!) But Gumpy knew about half dollars. That’s why he thought the answer was six.

half dollarMassachusetts quarterJefferson nickel

Lincoln centLincoln centLincoln cent

So why is the correct answer four coins? Because in the 19th Century—at two different times, 1851-1873 and 1865-1889—the United States minted three-cent coins. I learned that when I was researching the 1909 Lincoln Cent that Georgie and I found in his basement.

half dollarMassachusetts quarterJefferson nickel

I dont know which side is heads.

I have never seen a three-cent coin for real.

This is the other side of the three-cent coin. It doesn't have a head on it, either.
If you want to try to puzzle your family and friends with questions like this, you need to know that the United States also had twenty-cent, two-cent, and half-cent coins.

Update: Look what I got in the mail!

Dear Cheesie Mack: I saw on your website that you have never seen a real 3-cent US coin, so I thought I would send you this one. My father, who is a numismatist (which is a word I know you know), found it in his collection. It was minted in 1869. This coin has a hole in it because it was probably worn on a necklace or sewn onto a dress. Andy


Here’s what was in the letter.  I made the image much, much larger so the details are visible. You can see that it’s not the same as the three-cent coin above. The USA made two different designs in the 19th century. And now I actually own one. How cool is that?!

3 cent coin, front3 cent coin, back

Book 1

Mystery, mice, and money at the end of fifth grade!

from my book

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Comments from my Readers & Friends

  1. It said that it had a hint in the book, so i looked through the book and then i found “did you know that there used to be a three cent penny”? three pennys is the same as three cents in one coin. those three pennys counted and 3 so the three cent coin shrunk it down to four!! (lots of typing in this!!)

    1. Grandpa told me half dollars used to be completely common. Now you don’t see them almost anywhere.

  2. Dear Cheesie,

    I have a one dollar coin from the 1980’s!Its also made in the United States of America.

    from Devansh Khadka

  3. i have one chinese dollar and a bunch of euros (euorepean money) from when i went to europe the dollar is from my teacher

  4. one your book gorgie (did i spell it right?) said the cleaner it is the more it costs but that is not true you know that right?

  5. one your book gorgie (did i spell it right?) said the cleaner it is the more it costs but that is not true you know thwt right?

    1. It is definitely NOT GOOD to clean old coins. I read somewhere it really makes them worth MUCH LESS!
      (Georgie is the right spelling.)

    2. Lots of kids =don’t like wearing glasses, but Georgie doesn’t mind a bit because, just like you said, he thinks his glasses are cool!

  6. My mom asked me the question I said ” 50 cents, 25 cents, 5 cents, and 3 cents.

    1. I asked my local coin dealer and he said DEFINITELY NOT to clean coins. They may look nicer, but it makes them worth much less.

    2. but if you clean coins they rust like the the statue of liberty it was originally brown but years of rain made it rust

    3. You’re probably right, but the guy at the coin shop told me it is TERRIBLE if you clean coins. They lose lots of value.

    1. Depends on the condition. The more worn it is, the less it’s worth. But if it’s in perfect condition, it’s worth much more than $950.

    2. acctualy< the 1903 penny is worth 3,000 dollars if it is in perfect condition. there is proof on many websites 🙂

    1. Does it say “Republic of Liberia” on the back? If so, it’s not really worth $10. I looked it up. You should, too.

  7. Thats cool, about five seconds after I read this, I immediately got on the computer to see what the answer was!

    1. I never knew that! So cool. I just looked it up and the code on the side says, “We win when we work willingly.”

      I wonder why all the words started with W.

      Here’s what that would be in Morse Code:
      .– .   .– .. -.    .– …. . -.    .– .    .– — .-. -.-    .– .. .-.. .-.. .. -. –. .-.. -.–

      THANKS for telling this to me!

    1. I’m guessing you live in Canada. My grandparents (Gumpy & Meemo) just took a cruise from New Jersey all the way to Halifax.

    2. one time someone gave me a canadian penny as change i have no idea on what to do with it

    3. Did you know a Canadian penny is actually worth MORE than a US penny. (just a tiny bit more)

  8. Also (sorry i am typing so much) i never knew that 3 cent coins existed….i wonder how many are left.

  9. That is really cool…too bad it has a hole in it…what are you going to do with it???? Also about that half dollar coins my brother has 3 of them…and i have 1 of them they are really cool (but, i never use them)

    1. I am going to keep it forever! I don’t think I’ll ever have another three-cent coin. My Granpa has a sock in his dresser that is filled with old half dollars. He let me look at them, but that’s all.

    2. Good choice that’s what i would do with one too!! That’s cool about all the half dollar coins you grandpa has…i wonder how many he has.:D

    1. Me, neither. But now I have one! I hope you looked at the picture of it. (Too bad it has a hole in it.)

    1. Cool wish! I bet there’s an not a museum or coin collector in the world that has one of everything.

    1. I think old coins are really cool. It’s old history just sticking around. Granpa told me lots of people carried silver dollars around in their pockets back in the 40’s and 50’s. He has a cigar box with about 40 of them. The oldest is from 1880, I think.

    2. That’s really interesting. Because trees grow so slowly, if they had brains and memories, they’d look at life very differently, I think.

  10. We had a presentation in our class about coins minted in the U.S. and this was after we read Cheesie Mack in my homeroom and when we had the presentation, the man showed us a 3 cent coin and he said we wouldn’y know about it but hands shot up and what did we say? … We know what it is! We read Cheesie Mack and some of us went on their website!

  11. I know what that coin is! That is a three cent piece usually made in the late 1800s. There pretty rare and might be worth something. Hold onto it for a while ask an expert about it’s value.

    1. I did ask an expert. She said the hole in the coin makes it very NOT valuable. But I like it anyway!

    1. five $5 gold coins, one silver dollar, three quarters, two dimes, and a nickel.
      That wasn’t very hard. The more coins you have, the easier (usually) these kind of problems are…and 12 is a lot(!) of coins.

    1. I hope you told her the answer was four coins (which includes one three-cent coin).

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