#1-Four Coins = 83 Cents

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 newyork-quarter

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.

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.

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

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.

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Update: Look what I got in the mail!

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?!


Comments from my Readers & Friends

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

  2. 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)

    • 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.

      • 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

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

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

    • 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

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

    • 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.

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