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Coins & Currency | 09.23.2016

Large Cents - The first coins ever mass produced by the United States Government

Large Cents (1793-1857)

Large cents as they are known as by numismatic collectors today have earned a significant place in history as the first coins ever mass-produced by the United States government in any metal issued by the federal government on its own machinery and within its own premises. For all practical purposes, these are the first regular issue United States coins ever made.

1787 Fugio CentDon’t misunderstand what we are saying we know the Fugio Cent is the first official one-cent piece of United States currency inspired by the works of Benjamin Franklin. But the Large Cent, in many varieties, was minted from 1793 to 1857 at the Philadelphia Mint, the new and only U.S. Mint at the time.

Large Cents were not referred to as “Large Cents” during the minting of the coin, that term came much later by collectors. At the time, it was simply known as the “Cent” coin. If you have never seen one, these first cents were nearly the size of today’s half-dollar. The weight of a dollar’s worth of these coins was nearly three pounds!

It all began when the official U.S. Mint was created from the need to establish a national identity and the needs of commerce in the United States. This led the Founding Fathers of the United States to make an establishment of a continental national mint, the main priority after the ratification of the Constitution of the United States.

United States Mint in PhiladelphiaAs the Coinage Act of 1792 entered into law on April 2, it proclaimed the creation of the United States Mint. Philadelphia, at that time, was the nation's capital, therefore the first mint facility was built there. By the way, the Mint Act also instituted a decimal system based on a dollar unit; it specified weights, metallic composition, and fineness as well as required each United States coin to feature "an impression emblematic of liberty".

1793 Large Cents were made of nearly pure copper, or copper as pure as it could emerge from smelting at the time, without any deliberate addition of other metals. So the value of copper was directly linked to the value of gold and silver.

 

Large Cents were produced in several varieties:

Flowing Hair Coin

Flowing Hair, Chain Reverse 1793

Henry Voight was the designer of this coin. He intended for the chain on the back to represent strength, but people didn't like the design at all. They viewed the chain as a symbol of slavery. However, since only 36,103 were minted and many of these have not survived the years, it has become a real prize to the few collectors lucky enough to have one.

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Flowing Hair, Wreath Reverse 1793

Because of the strong reaction to the chain on the coin, it was removed later in 1793 and replaced with a wreath. The bust of Liberty was also redesigned with longer and if you could imagine wilder hair. There were about 63,000 coins made with the wreath on the reverse.

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Flowing Hair Coin with Wreath Reverse

Liberty Cap Cent

 

Liberty Cap 1793–1796

This design "tamed" the wild hair of Liberty and faced her to the right. A cap, an ancient symbol of freedom, was added, and the wreath on the reverse was revised to a laurel wreath.

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Draped Bust 1796–1807

On this design, Liberty is wearing flowing hair tied with a ribbon and has a drapery at the neckline. The reverse design features an olive wreath.

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Draped Bust Cent

Classic Head Cent

Classic Head 1808–1814

This design of the coin gets its name from the fillet (narrow headband) Liberty is wearing. It seems odd that this particular headgear was chosen for Liberty as it is a type of headgear only worn by male athletes in ancient Greece, given to them as prizes for winning local sporting events.

The copper used in the Classic Head cents contained less metallic impurity than previous copper used, and as a result, the coins were softer. This allowed them to wear and corrode more easily than other issues, so it is really difficult to find these coins in good condition.

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Liberty Head or Coronet Cents 1816–1839

Matron Head (1816–1839)- Due to much criticism of the Classic Head from the public, the coin was redesigned in 1816. The portrait was enlarged, and Liberty was given a much more mature look. This led to it being referred to as the Matron Head. Liberty was also surrounded with stars along the outer edge of the coin.

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Liberty Head Cent

Liberty Head Cent

Liberty Head or Coronet cents 1816–1857

Braided Hair or Petite Head (1839–1857) - Once again, public criticism prompted one last major change to the coin. It was updated by giving Liberty a slimmer, more youthful appearance.

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Flying Eagle cent 1854-1858

The Large Cent was one of the most heavily produced coins by the U.S. Mint and has become an interesting part of America’s history simply because they show us the value of money during this era. In 1857, the Large Cent was replaced by the new Flying Eagle Cent, a much smaller and more manageable coin.

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Flying Eagle Cent

 

Did you notice that the Large Cent WAS NOT produced in 1815?

The War of 1812 played a major role in the absence of a Large Cent edition from 1815, as a wartime embargo prevented blank copper planchets from being shipped to the US. Though the Mint worked with the supply it already had on-hand, they ran completely out by the time it came to produce the 1815 edition. Fortunately, the war with Great Britain was put to a halt in 1816, at which point the Mint immediately ordered more copper blanks to be used to create more Large Cents.

As you can clearly see, there are quite a few different possibilities when it comes to collecting the Large Cent. Being that the coin was in production for nearly 100 years, it would follow that many have survived to today, but such is not the case. Especially when it comes to the oldest minted versions, these coins are quite difficult to find and even harder to find in pristine condition.


If you are interested in buying or selling a Large Cent U.S. coin, U.S. Coins and Jewelry can help. Contact us at (713) 597-6367 or fill in our contact form. Learn more about rare coins, coin collecting, and coin history by subscribing to our U.S. Coins and Jewelry blog, or stop by our store at 8435 Katy Freeway Houston, TX 77024 to find a variety of rare coins that can help make your collection complete.

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