Why Do Coins Have Ridges On Their Edges?

Did you notice the ridges on the edges of some coins? Ever wonder why government treasuries spends so much money on creating those tiny little ridges? Wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to build a plain one? Of course, the Treasury might save some money to make the edges smooth. However, the Treasury has a very old and practical reason for putting ridges on coins.

Stack of coins with ridges
Ridges on coins are called reeds

Back in the Beginning, coins did not have ridges

The story goes back to 1792 when the Coinage Act declared that gold eagles, half eagles and quarter eagles ($10, $5 and $2.50 coins respectively) would be made of their face value in gold. The dollar, half-dollar, quarter dollar, dime and half-dime coins were to be manufactured of their value in silver. Also, the cent and half-cent coins were to be made of copper. The edges of all of these coins were smooth.

Nefarious individuals realized that they could make a reliable profit from these coins if they filed down or shaved down the sides of gold and silver coins and sell them as precious metal–while passing the coins as unaltered.

In response, the U.S. Mint started to put the ridges, also called “reeding”, on the sides of valuable coins as a security feature. A criminal cannot shave edges of a ridged coin without the tampering being visible. Any one would notice changes.

The Unexpected Benefit to Have Ridges

The ridges produce another benefit too. The ridges also make the coins distinguishable by touch, which helps visually-impaired citizens tell similar-sized coins (like pennies and dimes) apart. Pennies and dimes may be small coins today. But way back in the Depression era, the difference used to be very important.

Conclusion: Coins Have Ridges Because It’s Tradition

Of course today, the U.S. mint does not make U.S. coins from precious metals like silver and gold. So, people are not shaving cheap metal from the coins. Still, U.S. half-dollars, quarters, and dimes still keep with the tradition of putting ridges on the edges of the coins.

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