Prodigy Coins's Blog

13 Jul 2020

A Brief History of Small Cents

| Prodigy Coins

In 1856, the United States ditched large one cent pieces and replaced them with a significantly smaller version.

The first small cent ever was the flying eagle cent. It was issued from 1856 until 1858. In 1858 it was issued in small and large letter varieties. Neither variety is significantly more valuable than the other.

Our next coin is the Indian Head cent. The Indian head cent came in laurel wreath design on the reverse in 1859 and after that, it used the oak wreath reverse which also included a shield. 1859 as we said was the only year that used the laurel wreath reverse. In 1860 they started to use the oak wreath, which was used for the rest of the Indian head cent’s production ending in 1909. 1859 through 1864 a copper nickel composition was used. Then in 1864 it was time to change the cent’s composition to bronze (.950 copper and .050 zinc and tin).

Then, in 1909 the beloved wheat cent was released. The wheat cents, nicknamed “wheaties,” are classic US coins which are very popular to collect. 1909 was a pretty crazy year for cents. There were VDB initials on the back between the wheat ears on some coins in 1909, and that brought us the highly sought after 1909-S VDB wheat cent. Not all 1909 wheat cents had the reverse VDB. This resulted in 6 different cents in 1909 (Two Indians and 4 wheat cents). In 1943, the composition changed for one year only to a zinc coated steel. The composition was reverted to copper/zinc in 1944.

Then in 1959, after 50 years the reverse design was changed to show the Lincoln Memorial. In 1982 they changed the composition of our cents from copper alloy, to a copper-plated zinc. The cents made of mostly copper were getting too expensive to produce when they started to be worth way less due to inflation. The memorial design was used from 1959 until 2008.

Then, we got our Lincoln bicentennial cents for 2009. They used the same obverse, but on the reverses, there were four different designs featuring four stages of Lincoln's life. There was the early childhood reverse, with a log cabin to represent his humble beginnings in Kentucky. Then there was the formative years reverse which features Lincoln reading while working as a rail splitter in Indiana. Next is the professional life reverse. This shows Lincoln in front of the Illinois State Capitol. The fourth design is the presidency reverse. This shows the Capitol building which was under construction during Lincoln’s presidency.

This brings us to the current design, the shield cent. Again, the obverse remains the same, and only the reverse differs, now showing a United States style shield. This design should remain our one cent piece for the years to come.


Thanks for the blog!


Level 4

I really whish i could get all 6 of the 1909 cents. Great blog.

Prodigy Coins

Level 4

Yeah, that would be so cool. Me too. Thanks for reading.


Level 6

Love the Lincoln 1909 S VDB Cent! Great blog! Thanks ; )


Level 4

It is interesting to note that large cents were minted alongside small cents for circulation in 1857. I’m a small cent collector and love reading about them! A nice blog for a beginner to learn the different types and their respective years of production.


Level 6

Great concise blog. Good history in a short form. Well done. Thanks.


Level 7

When they saw V.D.B put his initials on they were upset. They removed it till 1918 when it was put on Lincoln's shoulder were it still is today. Greg blog. I'm a big fan of cents!!

It's Mokie

Level 6

One interesting thing about the Lincoln Cent is how the portrait of Lincoln has changed over the years, not something you saw in the Indian Head Cent. The modern Lincoln bust is not on par with Brenner's original sculpt and looks like a typical modern CAD effort.

Prodigy Coins

Level 4

Yes, but I like that They still give Brenner (almost) full credit though since its more of an edit of his design.

I. R. Bama

Level 5

You gave a very nice history of small cents!


Level 5

When I started collecting was all into the Lincoln cents, especially the wheats. Learned to grade them all by myself, by looking at grading pictures. Don't get interested anymore in the current years. But do have my collection of wheats.

We use cookies to provide users the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your cookie settings, we'll assume that you agree to receive all cookies on money.org. You may disable cookies at any time using your internet browser configuration. By continuing to use this website, you agree to our privacy policy and terms of use. To learn more about how we use cookies and to review our privacy policy, click here.