Silver Croeseid Coin | Image Credit: JastrowThe Oldest coin in the world may have been worth one paycheck.

Created over 2,700 years ago, but now located in the British Museum, is the Lydian Lion, the oldest coin in the world. It is a one-sided design featuring a roaring lion, the emblem of the Lydian Kings who created it around 610-600 BC. It was found in current day Turkey and is smaller than a US dime in diameter but is similar in weight to the quarter. The oldest coin in the world is made of electrum, an alloy of gold and silver, and was probably worth about one month’s pay. (Image Source)

There is still plenty of mystery revolving around the history of the Lydian Lion coin. There is no certainty of the value, or even the purpose of the oldest coin in the world. The story of why Lydia was the first to create coinage is controversial, but a convincing argument is that it was because the Lydians controlled the electrum-rich Paktolos River and were located at a junction of numerous trade routes. Historically, the Lydian people were known to be commercial and savvy and may have been the first merchants. Then when the Lydian king, Alyattes, wanted to control the bullion currency, he probably declared that only currency with his roaring lion mark could be used.

There are several regions in the world that developed coinage around the same period. Here is a brief history of other ancient coins.

  • 600-300 BC: Round, base metal coins were invented in China, independent of the Lydian coinage.
  • 600-570 BC: The use of coins spread from Lydia to Greece, where the Greek began minting their own coins.
  • 546 BC: Croesus, the King of Lydia, was captured by the Persians. As a result, the use of coins spreads to Persia.
  • 406-405 BC: Due to the citizens hoarding the limited amount of silver coins, Athenians created bronze coins coated in silver.
  • 269 BC: The Romans were late catching on to the use of coinage and finally began minting their own silver coins.
  • 44 BC: Roman Republic emperor Julius Caesar has his portrait used on coins struck at the mint in Rome.

King James II Shilling circa 1685 | Image Credit: Roy-MacLeodOther interesting coin history facts:

  • Oldest U.S. Coin
    • John Hull Silver Shilling (1652): John Hull was given permission to produce coinage by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He created the NE Shilling (New England Shilling) first, followed by the Willow Tree and Oak Tree coins. (Image Source)
    • The first official United States minted coin was the Half Cent, first produced in 1792 along with the passing of the Coinage Act of 1792. The Philadelphia mint was created and declared that the U.S. dollar was the standard monetary unit.
  • Oldest Roman Coin: The silver denarius Roman Republic coin dating from 211BC was found during an excavation in 2000 at Hallaton, Leics. It sat on a shelf at a museum for 10 years before anyone realized the importance of their find.
  • Oldest British Coin: The guinea is a coin that was minted in the Kingdom of England and later in the Kingdom of Great Britain and the United Kingdom between 1663 and 1813. The first guinea was produced on February 6, 1663.
  • First Mint in the Americas: In 1536, the Mexico City mint began to produce the Spanish Reales coins. The mint was the first one in the New World.
  • The earliest known Christian era dated coin is a denier from 1234 minted in Roskilde, Denmark. It was the first coin on the European continent to bear the date minted in roman numerals.
  • Ancient Egypt (Ancient Mesopotamia) is the home of the first official currency, introduced prior to 2000 BC.
  • The Tang Dynasty (618-907) of China introduced the first paper money, called banknotes, to lessen the burden of exchanging thousands of copper coins.
  • The most valuable coin in the world is the U.S. 1933 Saint-Gaudens Gold Double Eagle. The coins were minted but were never released to the public due to the ending of the gold standard. The coins were all melted down, except for a few that were stolen by a U.S. mint employee. One of the coins resurfaced in the 1990’s and the U.S. government attempted to confiscate it. After a long legal battle, the coin was sold at an auction on July 30, 2002, for $7,590,000.