Ever wonder why some coins have those little ridges along their sides? You know those ridges on the edge of a U.S. quarter? Those are milled edges, a feature introduced by Newton on English coins to prevent clipping. While dodging apples, Sir Isaac Newton had a few other good ideas in his career. The second one that we see in our daily lives is the small ridges along the edge of coins. Nowadays they only serve in identifying coins by feel, however initially, they prevented thievery! The answer goes back to the late 1600s when England’s monetary system was in full-blown crisis mode.The nation’s currency consisted wholly of silver coins, which silver was often worth more than the value marked on it. So exactly what did people do? They melted down the coins or “clipped” silver from the edges to sell to France.
By Newton’s time, clipping had done a number on the nation’s currency. The typical bag of English coins was just a hodgepodge of unrecognizable and damaged silver pieces. As such, forgers had a field day. Because English coins varied so widely in quality and size, it was easy to pass off even the most sloppy knockoffs as legal tender. Riots broke out as faith in the English currency plummeted.
The ridges on Quarters are called “reeds” after the process used to create the grooves
So in 1696, the British government called on Newton. And because counterfeiting has historically been categorized as high treason in Britain, the scoundrels he brought to justice typically wound up at the execution block. In addition to hands-on criminal offense fighting, he recalled all English coins and had them melted down and remade into a higher-quality, harder-to-counterfeit style. It was a bold move, considering that the entire country had to make do without a currency for a whole year. Working as many as eighteen hours a day, Newton reorganized the Royal Mints into high-quality, high-efficiency factories pumping out money that was highly resistant to forgery. So Isaac created the ingenious solution of manufacturing coins with fine ridges along the edge. That way, it would be instantly noticeable if somebody attempted to shave off some metal.
Initially, the coins value was equal to the amount of metal that is contained therein. And scammers are often cut off the money from the edges, collecting gold and silver.
Oddly enough solution to this problem proposed Sir Isaac Newton, who turns out was a staff member of the British Royal Mint. He offered to do at the edges of thin coins incision, because of which the ground off the edges become immediately noticeable. This procedure is carried out and to this day, although the need for it had long since disappeared. After all, much more profitable to counterfeit banknotes and easier. A coin edge has since been called a herd from the Old English – gyrdan (belting).
So it should come as not a surprise to find out that, when designated the largely ceremonial role of Warden at the Royal Mint in 1696, the brilliant innovator took to the mean streets of London — in disguise — to root out counterfeiters.
Yep, Isaac Newton was essentially a 17th-century Batman.
For the first few thousand years of currency, coins were in fact worth the value they represented. A 10 dollar gold coin was produced with 10 dollars worth of gold. So when you sold a goat, you would be making a legitimate trade for something of equal value. (and easier to carry in your pocket) Some less than honest people had the bright idea to take advantage of the crudely made coins. Anytime they got their hands on a silver or gold coin; they would shave a little bit of the precious metal from the coin. It wouldn’t be enough to notice any difference in weight or size, so the next person accepted the token as being worth the usual 10 dollars, however gradually the thief would collect up a pile of free money.
Of course modern coins, as of the last 100 years or so, have little actual value to the metal used, but the ridges stuck around, and are much appreciated by blind people to tell a penny from a dime.
The US coins no longer contain precious metals, but this was not always the case. The Coinage Act of 1792 not only established the U.S. Mint, but it also specified that US coins should be made of their face value in silver and gold. That exact same act of legislation likewise defined that $10, $5 and $2.50 coins (known as eagles, half eagles, and quarter-eagles) were to be made of their stated value in gold, while the quarter dollar, half-dollar, dollar, dime and half-dime coins were to be made of their worth in silver. (Half-cent and cent coins were made of cheaper copper.)
But an issue soon arose, after would-be crooks saw they could make significant earnings by filing shavings from the sides of silver and gold coins and selling the precious metal. Before the 18th-century was out, the U.S. Mint began adding ridges to the coins’ edges, a process called “reeding,” to make it difficult to shave them down without the result showing up. As a side benefit, the reeded edges likewise made coin style more detailed and counterfeited more challenging.
The United States Mint stopped producing all gold coins throughout the Great Depression, thanks to an executive order from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and a silver crisis in the 1960s led that metal to be gradually phased out as well. Today’s coins contain no precious metals — but you’ll still find those ridges, at least on half-dollars, quarters, dimes and some dollar coins. Aside from keeping up with tradition, the ridges likewise help make the coins distinguishable from each other by feeling along with look, making it possible for visually impaired people to tell the difference between similarly sized coins, like the penny and dime. So while coins made from precious metals may be history, it seems reeding is here to stay.
There are 119 ridges on a US Quarter