In the fledgling United States the most popular standard of value was the Spanish silver dollar and its fractional pieces of
eight, however, English coins of pounds, shillings and pence were also widely accepted. Since each state valued the Spanish coins
differently in relation to English money, the rate of exchange was confusing and frustrating and what your money was worth depended
upon where you were. In an attempt to stop the confusion and standardize the currency Congress passed the Mint Act of April 2,
1792. That Act provided that ". . . the money of account of the United States shall be expressed in dollars or units, dismes or
tenths, cents or hundredths, . . . a disme being the tenth part of a dollar...etc."
Based upon the weight and metal content, the gold ten-dollar piece had approximate the same value as a British double guinea.
The silver dollar would correspond to the Spanish eight reales. The copper cents was roughly equivalent to the English halfpenny.
It is arguable that the 1792 half dismes, the silver-center cents, or the Birch cents were the first coins struck by the United
States. They were made by mint officials, but they were more in the nature of Proofs. The first regular coins struck for circulation
by the federal government on its own machinery and within its own premises were the 36,103 Chain cents struck in the first twelve
days of March of 1793.
★★★★★ Flowing Hair Large One Cent 1793 ★★★★★
In his Encyclopedia of United States Large Cents, Walter Breen commented upon the belief of some who suggested that the
abbreviated legend was "deliberate symbolism, after the style of the Masonic Unfinished Pyramid on the reverse of the Great
Seal". Others, however, believe that it simply reflects the inexperience of the engravers of the first cent.
Type 1 Chain and "AMERI." on the Reverse
The first regular coins struck by the federal government on its own machinery and
within its own premises were the 36,103 Chain cents struck in the first twelve days
of March of 1793. Wright drew inspiration from a popular design created by French
medalist Augustin Dupre's 1783 Libertas Americana Medal commemorating American victories
at Saratoga and Yorktown over the English. The metal and the coin displayed Liberty with
her hair unbound and flowing in the wind, superimposed on a pole topped by a pileus
(the helmet-like emblem of freedom).
With the small hand presses then in use, if the central device of Liberty was to have
any appreciable relief, then the reverse design had to have a simple layout with much
open space in the fields. The chain design was simple enough and is easily the most
successful element on the coin. Its fifteen interlocking links form an unbroken chain,
with the words ONE CENT and the fraction 1/100 inside.
Type 2 Chain and "AMERICA" on the Reverse One Cent
The chain device was an obvious allusion to the inter connectedness of the fifteen states
in the Union. This chain device had recently been used on Continental Currency to signify
the common, shared cause of the 13 colonies. Even more recently, it had been seen on the
widely circulated Fugio cents of 1787. This made the public reaction to the coin more
difficult to understand: Many people associated the chain device with the chains of slavery.
Whatever the meaning, the "AMERI." was quickly replaced by "AMERICA".
The March 18, 1793 edition of Philadelphia′s The Mail, or Claypoole′s Daily Advertiser stated the opinion,
"The chain on the reverse is but a bad omen for liberty." Soon after the "Chain" reverse was replaced by the "Wreath" reverse.
The 1793 Flowing Hair and wreath reverse was issued with two Borders. Click the link below to see an example of both, side by
side. click to view
Despite the obstacles, a quick change of the cent design seemed desirable, and Mint Director David Rittenhouse first told
coiner Adam Eckfeldt to delete the offending chains from the reverse. The new Liberty head had long, separate locks blowing even
more wildly than those on the Chain coins. The new reverse presented an elegant wreath of elongated leaves resembling laurel, the
ancient symbol of victory.
Philadelphia Mint records show that 63,353 Wreath cents were struck. Many were saved,
probably as curiosities. A number were set aside by visiting Britons, for whom the coin
collecting hobby was already well established.
Designer: 1793: Robert Scot Designer: 1794: Joseph Wright / Robert Scot Designer: 1795-1796: Robert Scot
Weight: 1793 1795 - 13.5 grams Weight: 10.9 grams at the last part of 1795 Weight: 1796 - 10.9 grams
Content: 100% copper Mint Mark: None (Philadelphia) Edges: 1795 - 1796 3 Types 1. Lettered: ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR with a leaf after DOLLAR, points down 2. Lettered: ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR with a leaf after DOLLAR, points up 3. Lettered: ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR Edges: 1795 - 1796 2 Types 1. Plain 2. Experimental vertical reeding
Flowing Hair Large Cent (Wreath Reverse)
Select a grade image for comparison to your coin.
Liberty Capped Large One Cent 1793 - 1796
Dissatisfied with Eckfeldt's designs, mint director Rittenhouse hired Joseph Wright to do another redesign in the troubled first
year of the one cent. Wright faced Liberty to the right and "tamed" her wild hair. The cap was added as a symbol of freedom, it was
often worn in the French Revolution. The reverse design was a laurel wreath, and Robert Scot aided with several revisions to the
design over the next three years.
Click to Enlarge
Type 1 Liberty Capped Beaded Border
Click to Enlarge
Type 2 Liberty Capped Denticled Border
Click to view 1794 Type 3 Liberty Capped
The new design continued into 1796, but in 1795, planchets became too thin for the edge lettering because of a weight reduction,
so the mint stopped edge lettering on the cent, and the rest of these coins were made with a plain edge.
Liberty Capped Specs.
Designer 1793: Robert Scot Designer 1794: Joseph Wright / Robert Scot Designer 1795-1797:John Smith Gardner
Edge 1793 & 1794: 2 edges: Lettered: ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR with one leaf after DOLLAR, leaf points down Lettered: ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR with one leaf after DOLLAR, leaf points up Edge 1795 & 1796: 3 edges: 1. Lettered: ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR 2. Plain 3. Experimental vertical reeding Mint Mark Legend
Robert Scot modeled the Draped Bust design after a drawing by artist Gilbert Stuart. It is reported that the model for the
"Draped Bust" coins was Anne Bingham. Ms. Bingham achieved notoriety similar to today's pop stars. The Grecian-style "Draped Bust"
has been very popular in American coinage.
The obverse depicts Liberty with flowing hair, a ribbon behind her head and drapery at her neckline. LIBERTY is inscribed above
the bust and the date below. The reverse features the denomination ONE CENT, encircled by an open wreath of two olive branches tied
with a bow. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounds the wreath, and the fraction 1/100 is between the ends of the bow.
There are three varieties of reverses; each varies the leaves and berries on the wreath. They are known as the "Type of 1794,"
"Type of 1795" or "Type of 1797." All three types were used on the reverse of 1796 cents, with the last two types were used on the
1797. The last reverse was used from 1797 through 1807.
Because the lettering was hand punched into the dies, errors were prevalent. One such blunder is the "LIHERTY" error where the
"B" was rotated 180 degrees before being punched and then crudely corrected. Another is the "T" over "Y" blunder in 1802. There
were many other variations involving spacing and positioning of the letters and dates.
Many of these coins were used to make jewelry, which may partially account for their scarcity and explain why so many have
holes punched in them.
In the 1850's, the popularity of coin collecting grew, scarce date production began to spread both on and off the mint premises.
Around 1858, the rare 1804 Draped Bust cent was "restruck" using dies sold as scrap metal by the mint. These restrikes are easily
distinguished from the originals, tooling to correct flaws in the badly rusted dies is easily detectable. Other restrikes and
uniface examples of this date can be found in white metal.
In the early years of the US Mint, the cent underwent many changes. There were four major changes took place in the first five
years. Additionally, there were many minor variations. The Draped Bust image on the cent and other coins gave a sense of stability
to U.S. coinage (lasting around 10 years.
Totally unimpressed with this, in 1807 Mint Director wrote President Thomas Jefferson asking permission to hire a German
migrant John Reich as assistant to the aging engraver Robert Scot. Reichs was very shortly promoted to second engraver and given
the assignment of redesigning the coinage from the half cent to half eagle, essentially all US coinage.
The copper used in this period was of a higher quality, with much fewer metallic impurities than usual. For this reason, they
were softer and would wear and corrode more quickly than issues before or since. As a result, high-grade specimens are particularly
difficult to obtain and command a much higher premium.
They also appear on market less frequently, especially with red or red-brown mint luster.
A shortage of planchets halted production in 1815, the Mint made no cents with that date. In 1816, when production resumed, the
cent bore Robert Scot's new and undistinguished "Matron Head" design.
The "Classic Head" name was not given the coin until the 1860's. It derives the name from the fillet worn by Liberty on the
obverse. A fillet on "Lady Liberty" seems a bit out of place since it was worn only by male athletes in "the Classic Period" of
Classic Head Large One Cent Specs.
Designer: John Reich Denomination: One cent (1/100 dollar) Diameter: 29 mm; plain edge Metal Content: 100% copper Weight: 10.89 grams Mint Marks: None (all Philadelphia)
Early in the war of 1812 supplies of copper planchets from the English manufacturer, Boulton & Watt of Liverpool stopped, and by
1814 the last of the imported copper blanks had been turned into "Classic Head" cents.
With no copper Planchets available in 1815, the idle time proved to be very useful. The Mint had been criticized since it struck
its first coins in 1793. The Classic Head cent was no exception, critics were quick to point out that the fillet on "Lady Liberty's"
head had never been worn by women but was given as a prize to male athletes in Classical times. The down time was used to update
mint equipment and processes as well as redesigning the cent. This allowed greater uniformity in coinage.
"Matron Head" One Cent
Redesigned in 1835 the Braided Hair is slimmer and more youthful.
The button below will show an example of the 15 star version of the Braided Hair version.
Wishing to avoid further embarrassment with the new design, Mint officials bypassed Assistant Engraver John Reich (who had
created the Classic Head) and assigned redesign of the cent to Scot. While Scot's creation was a terrible failure from an artistic
stand point, there was no doubt of Liberty's gender. The fillet holding the hair back was replaced with coronet. The redesign also
enlarged the obverse portrait, giving Liberty a much more mature look. While the correct name for the design was the "Coronet"
cent, many people call it the "Matron Head" cent.
The reverse was essentially unchanged and retained the "Christmas wreath" of Reich's 1808 design.
Matron Head Cent Specs.
Designer: John Reich Denomination: One cent (1/100 dollar) Diameter: 29 mm; plain edge Metal Content: 100% copper Weight: 10.89 grams Mint Marks: None (all Philadelphia)
Because of negative public reaction, the earlier "Matron Head" cents was again redesigned in 1835 by Christian Gobrecht for the
last major change to this one cent coin. The updated gave Lady Liberty a slimmer, younger appearance. Minor tweaks continued up to
1843, but the 1843 through 1855 cent was never changed.
To view a side by side comparison, click this button
The public (needing small change) initially welcomed the large one cents. But the cumbersome coins soon fell from favor (even
before the Braided Hair design came along), they were considered too heavy, often badly worn or corroded and they were not
legal-tender. After a while, Merchants began to refuse them and began offering their own "store tokens" or "hard times tokens" as
These unwanted cents didn't go to waste. Using the copper for their projects many found advantageous to purchase one cent coins
by the keg (approximately 14,000 coins), and melt them down. When copper prices went up in the 1850's one could buy one cent coins
for less than raw copper.
It is believed that Gobrecht's inspiration for the new 1839 design was Benjamin West's painting, Omnia Vincit Amor (Love
Conquers All). The braided hair over Liberty's brow reflected the famed Empire style (out of date by a decade in Europe but well
established in American}.
"Braided Hair" coins achieved greater uniformity than any of the earlier large cents thanks to the introduction of steam power,
advances in hubbing the design into the dies and the use of logotypes or single, four-digit punches to impress dates. This
eliminated so many varieties so beloved by copper collectors.
Minor varieties do exist they include:
large and small dates of 1840 and 1842
multiple obverse/reverse combinations for 1843
1844 and 1851 coins showing an 18 punched upside down where the last two digits of the date were supposed to go, creating the 1844/81 and 1851/81 varieties.
Large cents of 1846 appear with small, medium and large dates
1847 coins include the bold Large over Small 7 variety
The 1855 issues show slanting (italic) or upright 5s
Both types of 5s occur on cents of 1856
The bold 1855 "Knob on Ear" variety resulted from a large die chip that gradually expanded to cover part of Liberty's head
1868 - 11 years after the large cent was discontinued, a mint employee struck about 12 unofficial large cents in bronze and copper-nickel dated 1868
Braided Hair One Cent Specs.
Designer: 1839: Robert Scot, modified by Christian Gobrecht.
Slow to respond, in the 1850's Mint officials finally became willing to deal with the problems caused by the large cents since
1793. The large copper cents (because of their size) were too cumbersome and unpopular, they were also uneconomical to make.
Additionally, there were still many small Spanish silver coins circulating in the United States which made the need for a smaller
US coin obvious.
Sparked by the widespread use of tokens, the idea of fiduciary coinage, based on the trustworthiness of the issuing authority,
not on the coin's intrinsic value, was beginning to catch on as well. Large Copper coins were on their way out, but it was the
large numbers of small Spanish colonial silver coins in use that finally made it imperative that smaller cents should be struck.
The coinage law of February 21, 1857 gave Snowden the means to purge the halls of commerce of foreign coins. In addition to
abolishing the half cent, the law also specified that the new cents would weigh 72 grains and be composed of 88% copper and 12%
nickel, and that they were redeemable for the old copper cents and half cents. But the most important provision as far as Snowden
was concerned was the one that permitted the Mint to redeem Spanish double-reales, reales and medios at the rate of 25, 12-1/2, and
6-1/4 cents, respectively, for the new cents. All other government offices would only convert them at 20, 10, and 5 cents
respectively, therefore, banks were very desirous of exchanging as many of the Spanish coins as possible. When the Flying Eagle
cents were first released on May 25, 1857, more than a thousand people were at the mint building to convert their old Spanish coins
and large coppers.
1858 Flying Eagle Example
1858 Flying Eagle Example
Designed by James B. Longacre, the Flying Eagle motif was actually an adaptation of the design used on pattern silver dollars
twenty years before. The eagle figure had originally been drawn by Titian Peale and sculpted by Christian Gobrecht. The reverse
wreath was similarly adapted from the model Longacre had made for the 1854 one and three dollar gold pieces.
The relationship of the head of the eagle, the tail of the eagle (both on the front) and the wreath (on the reverse) when added
to increased striking pressure (in order to show the eagles feathers) all led to frequent die breakage on the "Flying Eagle" cent.
After three years of production the "Flying Eagle" was suspended.
Flying Eagle One Cent Specs.
Designer: James Barton Longacre using Christian Gobrecht's eagle design Diameter: 19 millimeters Weight: 4.7 grams Content: 88% copper 12% nickel Edge: Plain Mint Mark: None (Philadelphia)
The Flying Eagle cent had barely begun to circulate when Mint Director James Ross Snowden instructed Chief Engraver James B.
Longacre to start preparing new designs, one of which would be chosen to replace it. This was because of deficiencies in the design
of the Flying Eagle cent (it often emerged weakly struck, especially at the eagle's tail and wingtip).
Director Snowden suggested that Longacre fashion a head of Christopher Columbus for the cent. Even though he had created the
flying eagle cent, Longacre threw himself into the task and created more than a dozen pattern cents. Eventually, Longacre came up
with an alternative that Snowden liked even better than Columbus. It was a portrait of an Indian girl- or more likely a
Caucasian-wearing a feathered headdress. Modern historians believe the Indian Head was apparently modeled after the Greco-Roman
statue of Venus Accroupie.
Like its Flying Eagle predecessor, the Indian Head cent started out as a copper-nickel coin, made from an alloy whose light
color led to its being called a "white" cent. Most experts agree that his idea was indeed inspired, for the Indian Head cent won
immediate and enduring acclaim from the American public.
Click to view 1860 Example. Click to view 1860 Example.
The reverse laurel wreath design was modified in 1860 to an oak wreath and a Union shield. Reasons for the change are uncertain
even today. Some historians have speculated that because the events leading to the Civil War were building, the shield was intended
to portray a sense of unity. Anticipating war, jittery Americans from both north and south began hoarding gold and silver coins
and by the summer of 1862, precious metal coins virtually disappeared from circulation.
Not being made of precious metal, cents continued to circulate for a while longer. At the time, it seemed unlikely that people
would hoard the bronze one cents coins. The smaller copper-nickel coins issued since the Flying Eagle cents were worth less as
metal than as money. This was unusual since most U. S. coins (other than the small one cent) had high intrinsic value. Most Americans
demanded this in their coinage. In spite of this, the public welcomed the small one cent coin, since the larger one cent coins
were too cumbersome for normal use.
Copper-nickel Indian Head cents were minted annually from 1860 through 1864, but in 1864 the alloy was changed to bronze. All
Indian Head cents were minted at the Philadelphia Mint until 1908 when they were struck in both Philadelphia and
Indian Head Cents Specs.
Type 1 No Shield on Reverse (1859) Designer: James B. Longacre Weight: 4.67 grams Diameter: 19 millimeters Edge: Plain Content: 88% copper 12% nickel Mint Mark: None (Philadelphia)
Type 2 Shield on Reverse (1860 - 1864) Designer: James B. Longacre
Type 3 (1865 - 1909) Content: Bronze Mint Mark: Reverse (1908 1909 - below wreath)
Despite the objections of putting a historical figure on a U.S. coin, President Theodore Roosevelt ask designer Victor D.
Brenner to come up with a design to place President Lincoln on the one cent coin. Brenners design was timed to be introduced in
1909 to honor the nation's 16th president on his 100th birthday. The first coins struck (June to Aug. 5) had the initials v.d.b.
at six o'clock on the reverse side and for the first time on the cent, the motto IN GOD WE TRUST at 12 o'clock on the obverse.
The controversy over Lincoln's portrait soon died away; most Americans found the design appealing.
A controversy developed over the first few examples of the coin that were found to bear the initials V.D.B. in large letters at
the reverse. This led to their removal which resulted in a major rarity. Since only 484,000 of these cents were minted in San
Francisco with the initials, the 1909-S V.D.B. cent has become the most coveted coin in the Lincoln series. The 1909-S without
the V.D.B. are four times more common but still difficult to find. Brenner's initials (V.D.B.) was later restored in 1918, but in
smaller letters, and on Lincoln's shoulders.
Click to view 1909 Example
Click to view 1909 VDB Example
The Lincoln cent production was substantial from the beginning. The Philadelphia (with no mint mark) and San Francisco (with a S
mint mark) was the first producers, in 1911 the Denver mint began producing one cent coins also. Philadelphia (the largest producer)
minted more than 100 million cents in 1909 and in 1941 topped the one billion coin production for the first time.
Only two coins in the early part of the series (before 1940) have mintages below one million, they are the 1909-S V.D.B. and
the 1931-S (866,000). The great depression era is sited as the reason for such low mintage of the 31-S. Several other issues are
coveted as key coins in the Lincoln series, they are the 1910-S, 1911-S, 1912-S, 1913-S, 1914-S, 1914-D, 1915-S and 1924-D.
One Lincoln of some notoriety is the 1922 plain. This coin is in fact an error coin: no one cent coins were minted in Philadelphia
in 1922. The 1922 plain was the results of the D being filled with metal and therefore it was not stamped on
Type 2 - Lincoln Cent Zinc over Steel (1943)
During World War II zinc-coated steel plachets replaced the copper plachets normally used. The zinc, unfortunately, quickly
deteriorates in use and the public complained the coin was easily confused with dimes. An error was made that year when several
1943 cents were struck using bronze plachets and a slightly larger number of 1944 cents were struck in steel. Both are very valuable.
One specimen of the 1943-D sold in 2010 for $1.7 million. Bronze Plachets were resumed after the failed experiment. The design
was not changed until 1959 when the Lincoln Memorial replaced the wheat on the reverse.
Click to view 1955 ONE CENT example.
Lincoln Cent Type 1 Specs.
Designer: Victor David Brenner Diameter: 19 millimeters Content: 95% Copper 5% Tin/Zinc Weight: 3.11 grams Edge: Plain
In celebration of Lincoln's 150th birthday, the Mint gave the one cent coin a new reverse with Lincoln's Memorial depicted on it.
There are several varieties and mint errors in the Memorial Reverse series. Both the Philadelphia and Denver issues have both
Large and Small date varieties in 1960. Proof sets in 1979-S and 1981-S have two distinct mint mark types. Double Die varieties are
well know on the front of some 1972, 1984 and 1995 cents also on the reverse of some 1983 cents. Both Wide and Close AM (in AMERICA)
varieties can be found on the 1996, 1998, 1998-S, 1999, 1999-S, and 2000 one cents.
Click to view
In 1982 the alloy used for the cent was changed. Copper-plated zinc was the new alloy, and the weight was changed from 3.11 grams
to 2.5 grams. Some 1982 cents were struck on the old 95% copper planchets and others on the new metal. This combined with Large
and Small date varieties caused 1982 to have eight varieties of coins. The set of 1982 include: 1982 Large Date Bronze, 1982 Small Date Bronze,
1982 Large Date Zinc, 1982 Small Date Zinc, 1982-D Large Date Bronze, 1982-D Large Date Zinc, 1982-D Small Date Zinc, and the
1982-S proof. There is no 1982-D Small Date Bronze variety.
The 1909 issue of the Lincoln cent was in celebration of Lincoln's 100th birthday. For the sesquicentennial celebration in 1959
the Wheat Reverse was changed to the Memorial Reverse. In 2009 to recognize the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth and the 100th
anniversary of the Lincoln cent, the Presidential $1 Coin Act, passed in 2005 also authorized the Mint to issue four different
reverse designs in 2009
The four revere designs represented four major periods of Lincoln's life:
The first (Type 4) Birth & Childhood, shows a log cabin that symbolic of his childhood in Kentucky.
The Second (Type 5) symbolizes the Formative Years with Lincoln educating himself while resting from splitting logs.
The third (Type 6) symbolizes Lincoln's Professional Life standing in front of the State of Illinois Capitol building.
The Fourth (Type 7) symbolizes Lincoln's Presidency it shows the U. S. Capitol under construction as it was in Lincoln's time in office.
Childhood Type 4
Formative Years Type 5
Professional Life Type 6
The Presidency Type 7
Lincoln Bust (All) Specs.
Obverse Designer: Victor David Brenner
2009 Type 4 Childhood (Log Cabin) Specifications Reverse Designer: Richard Masters, engraved by Jim Licaretz 2009 Type 5 Indiana (Formative) Specifications Reverse Designer: Charles Vickers 2009 Type 6 (Professional Life) Specifications Reverse Designer: Joel Iskowitz, engraved by Don Everhart 2009 Type 7 (Presidency) Specifications Reverse Designer: Susan Gamble, engraved by Joseph Menna
The sane act that authorized the four new reverse designs for 2009 called for a new reverse to be designed for 2010. This
design was to be emblematic of President Lincoln's preservation of the United States of America as a single and united
country. The Union Shield reverse design was chosen, and the composition for this issues was copper-plated zinc.