Monday, March 12, 2012

Large Cents: They Just Don't Make Copper As Big As They Used To

Cents and half cents were the first coins struck for circulation under the United States government. Coinage of Large Cents began in 1793 and its laws stated that all cents had to weigh exactly twice as much as the Half Cent. All Large cents were minted only at the Philadelphia Mint. Proofs of Large Cents were made only in 1817 and all Proofs are extremely rare cents. The first Large cent and one of the first American coins struck at the U.S. mint was the Flowing Hair cent (1793). Then the Liberty Cap large cent design followed (1793-1796) to please the people who had objections that the earlier design was not a fair representation of Liberty. The first cents of this type had beaded borders (like the Flowing Hair Large cents), while following Liberty Cap cents had denticled border. The 1794 Starred Reverse is a unique variety that has 94 tiny stars placed among the denticles on the reverse. In 1796, the Liberty Cap design was replaced with the Draped Bust Large cent (1796-1807) designed by Robert Scot, featuring a better-looking Miss Liberty wearing a ribbon in her hair. This type underwent numerous changes and errors in its design including small dates, large dates, small fraction, large fraction, broken dies, restrikes, overdates and other errors. 1799 is the rarest date of this series and 1807/6 Large cent is another rare variety. The Classic Head cent (1808-1814) followed with cents that wore not struck as well as before. That's why coin collectors find it hard to get dates in choice condition. Due to a fire at the Mint, no cent was struck in 1815. In 1816, the Classic Head design was replaced with a new Liberty head design - the Coronet or Matron head and later the Braided Hair (1816-1857). 1816 is the year when the date was placed in the middle at the bottom of the obverse for the first time on a Large cent. 1816 is also a popular 1st year of issue for this type.

The first Large cent - "Flowing Hair" cent - had Liberty facing right on the obverse, surrounded by the word LIBERTY at the top and the date at the bottom. Also, a three-leaf sprig appears above the date, later changed to a strawberry leaf. There were two types of reverse - the Chain reverse and the Wreath reverse. This wreath had only one bow at the bottom. Regarding "Liberty Cap" cents, besides the 1794 Starred Reverse variety, there's the popular so-called Jefferson Head variety (1795) thought to have been made as a sample for a proposed contract with a private contractor. Later in 1795, the Mint reduced the weight of the Large cent, a change that lead to another modification - the replacement of the reeded edge with a plain one.

For the next cent design, the "Draped Bust", the most significant feature is its reverse which displayed three different designs: 1st reverse - double leaf at the top right, the 2nd reverse - single leaf on the olive branch, and the 3rd - double leaf. Also, in 1796 there was an error with LIHERTY on the obverse instead of LIBERTY. There's also the first overdate dating 1798 with 1798 over 7. In 1801, there were 3 errors on the reverse with the fraction displaying 1/000 instead of 1/100, a wreath with only one stem, and the U in United minted as II.

The "Classic Head" design portrayed Miss Liberty on the obverse, wearing a headband with the word LIBERTY on it. This is the first coin that displayed the 13 stars surrounding Liberty, symbolizing the 13 U.S. colonies. The "Liberty Head" has two main type: the Matron or Coronet Head (1816-1836) and the Braided Hair (1836-1857). The name of the first type comes from the headband on Liberty's head that looks like a crown. This type comes with an interesting variety of 1817 with 15 stars on the obverse instead of the usual 13. There are other varieties with small date or large date and overdates. There's another variety dating 1828 with Block 8 or Script 8. The 1821 Large cent is the rarest of this series. As the name suggests, the Braided Hair cents had Liberty wearing her hair braided. the most desired Braided Hair large cents are the ones with full red surfaces. No large cents were minted after 1857 because there were too expensive to make. The half cent was abandoned and the Small Cent was introduced.

View our Large Cent inventory at