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

  2. 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?

  3. 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?

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

    • 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.

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

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

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

    • 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!