#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

    • I guess you are talking about my 3-cent coin…but it’s actually not worth anything because of the hole in it. Doesn’t matter to me, though. I love it!

  1. Cheesie my man,my grandfather has lots and lots of half-dollars.He comes from the time where African Americans had too work in the cotton fields.

    • I have read about working in cotton fields. It was very hard work. Your grandfather must’ve been a strong man.

    • Granpa has a whole box of silver dollars and half dollars. I think he will give them to me someday. (I hope!)

  2. When I started your book, I thought it was Ok. At the end, I thought I would be scarred for life, that’s how bad your book is!

    • Sam, you are pretty rude. If you don’t like my books, why no tell me why, rather than just threatening me like a lawyer?

  3. 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!!)

  4. Dear Cheesie,

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

    from Devansh Khadka