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The History of the Coin Flip

People all over the world resolve arguments and make decisions using the time-honored tradition of flipping a coin, but did you ever wonder how the practice started? It turns out that there’s not a whole lot of information out there about the origins of the coin flip, but here’s what we know:

Where it all began
While the birth of metal coinage can be traced back to the 7th century BC, one of the first accounts of coin flipping comes from Roman times when the practice was called navia aut caput (“ship or head”). The Brits called it “cross and pile,” while in Peru it’s called cara o sello (“face or seal”) to this day. Some historians believe that the game began in Ancient Greece where boys covered one side of a shell with black pitch and left the other side white before flipping it in the air.

The coin flip today
Wherever it started, the coin flip has become a part of everyday life in all corners of the globe. American and Australian football games are started with a coin toss to decide which team gets the ball first. The outcome of many cricket matches is decided by who gets to bat first — also determined by the toss of a coin. Coin flips have an impact on larger issues, too. In the UK, if two candidates for office receive exactly the same number of votes (after three recounts), the election can be decided by a coin flip.

So while the origins of flipping a coin remain shrouded in mystery, it’s a practice that’s employed all over the world. And whether the venue is the Super Bowl, the British Houses of Parliament or a humble living room on movie night, it seems safe to say that children and adults will continue to shout out “Heads” or “Tails” and watch breathlessly as the flipped coin determines their fate.

Want to learn more about coins? The experts at West Seattle Coins and Bellevue Rare Coins love to talk about the history of coinage and the joys of coin collecting. And if you have a coin collection you’re interested in selling, we’ll give you an honest, fair evaluation of how much it’s worth. Why not come see us at one of our locations in West Seattle, Bellevue and Lynnwood?

West Seattle Coins and Bellevue Rare Coins specialize in gold buying and dealing in rare coins. We are a family-owned business that was first established in 1979 and is now located in West Seattle, Bellevue and Lynnwood. We also buy and sell gold, silver, diamonds, currency and jewelry. Visit us first for a free evaluation.

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  • Bellevue


    321 Bellevue Way NE
    Bellevue, WA 98004
    Hours: Mon-Fri 10 am - 6 pm
    Saturday & Sunday Closed
    Phone: 425-454-1283
  • Lynnwood


    18411 Alderwood Mall Parkway Suite F
    Lynnwood, WA 98037
    Hours: Mon-Fri 10 am - 6 pm
    Saturday & Sunday Closed
    Phone: 425-672-2646
  • Issaquah


    1175 NW Gilman Blvd Suite B16
    Issaquah, WA 98027
    Hours: Mon-Fri 10 am - 6 pm
    Saturday & Sunday Closed
    Phone: 425-392-0450
  • Tacoma


    2302 Pacific Ave
    Tacoma, WA 98402
    Hours: Mon-Fri 10 am - 6 pm
    Saturday & Sunday Closed
    Phone: 253-328-4014