Long Beard's Blog

05 Jun 2020

Change and Elimination

Coins-United States | Long Beard

Generally, I don't split blog topics into multiple parts over a period of time. While this weeks blog may very well be considered as such, the subject at hand deals more with change rather than elimination altogether and the lasting effect both have on commerce and numismatics. Change occurs for a variety of reasons, aside from the design aspect, in that it usually involves the intended purpose of a coin. As a means of payment for goods and services, backed by a value and faith in a government which issues said coinage. Without both, coins become nothing but round metal discs. From the very beginning, coinage has seen multiple changes primarily in composition and size as the value dictated. Elimination, however, stirs at the very soul of who we are as a nation. Nothing could be more comparative than to bring up the cent and nickel due to cost of production or low buying power. The United States is one, if not only, country still striking both for commerce. I myself have heard non-collectors compare such a move by the Treasury Department as being like the Euro or Canada. And rightfully so. We are a unique bunch, are we not? So this weeks subject involves both change and elimination in the mid-seventeenth century and the resulting impact. Specifically on numismatics. Enjoy!

No other time period in U.S. coinage production saw such a lasting impact in collecting than 1856/57. Unlike the complete denominational changes in 1916 or the Statehood Quarter program, to name a few, no other denomination could compare with the lowly cent of 1857and it's effects on centuries of coin collecting. Much like today, the cost of metals needed in striking coinage began exceeding the face value. At the time, particularly with silver (which most denominations were), a simple reduction in metalsolved the problem. Copper, on the other hand, became more of an issue as it was pure unlike silver whichhas a composition of both. With the forth coming size reduction aside, this would onlybe a short term solution as the ever rising cost of the metal would soon exceed it's value yet again in the near future. While the mint settled on a smaller diameter, it was smelter John Booth who devised that a composition of 12% nickel and 88% copper would suffice in striking. Little had the mint known that over the next few years nickel would prove detrimentalcausing weak strikes over time. Satisfied with the cost savings, around 1000 small cent patterns were struck in 1856 (although the collector market considers them "coins", they are technically patterns since they were not struck for commerce) and given to members of Congress and other dignitaries. Congress passed legislation and authorized their striking on February 21, 1857.

Word soon begancirculating that the mint in Philadelphia planned to replace the cumbersome large cent denomination with a much smaller 19mm coin and eliminate the no longer useful half-cent. As an American public realized that these large cents would soon vanish from circulation, collectors both old and new began assembling date sets spanning the years 1793 through 1857. And so, on May 25, 1857 an anxious collector crowd overwhelmed the mint in Philadelphia buying all that they could of the new Flying Eagle Cents. Outside in the streets, those less fortunate to acquire any oncedepleted found themselves buying them for double face value if not more.With the coin market on fire coin dealers began stocking their stores to satisfy the exploding demand, particularly the Large Cents. New dealers were springing up across the country. Ads buying and selling began appearing in newspapers. Mail order catalogs and periodicals became common. The biggest boost to collecting was on.By years end, as word of the 1856 small cents emerged, once again Philadelphia was besieged with collectors hoping to buy one or more. Despite being turned away since there were none to be had as they were patterns, the huge number of requests lead mint officials to strike an additional 1500-3500 dated the previous year. In both business and proof versions for collectors only.

However, the public in general disliked the new cents, deeming them worthless due to the composition change. So much so that they refused to spend them, often using large quantities to pay bills instead. As for the elimination of the half-cent in 1857, few complained as it was not worth much as far as spending was concerned.As the public's anger grew, not to mention that of business owners flooded with small cents complaining that brokers were paid to take them, Congress seem compelled to act. While the change in design to the Indian Head beginning in 1859 is unclear, it could be argued as a contributing factor from all the complaints. As fate would have it, the Civil War broke out and the problem seemed to be solved as hoarding of precious metals began. But the small cent would remain for many years to come.

Having little knowledge and few books on the subject many early collectors spent years searching for dates which did not exist. A large Cent dated 1815, for example, because of a fire at the mint that year. Nor would they know of the extreme rarities such as the 1799. Some of the greatest collections known were in the beginning stages. By the 1870's action catalogs emerged, among the first numismatic publications and highly collectible today.Books, a rarity before hand, were being published in great frequency. Especially those dealing with die-varieties, a subject few knew of before hand. Nearly every major collection can be traced back to 1857 or shortly thereafter.Indeed, no other single coin has had such an impact on collecting as we know it than the lowly cent.

Images courtesy of PCGS



Level 5

Enjoyed the blog on cents and large cents. Not a big fan of large cents. I don't collect large cents, but have been looking at buying one dated before 1800. Would like a 1797 or 1798 just to have one with an old date. Very nice blog.


Level 4

You are looking at spending a lot of money.


Level 5

Well done. You put la lot of thought into the blog. thanks.


Level 6

Very interesting. I agree with Mokie. Send this into The Clarion. It's funny that so many people didn't like the one cent. At least it had value then.. Thanks.


Level 6

Very interesting, this should be an article in a scholarly numismatic publication. Since you're a PAN member, please consider submitting this to our Clarion Editor, Richard Jewell.

Long Beard

Level 5

I am truly humbled. Thank you. Next weeks blog, which has taken me the past two days in researching, will blow your mind. As for the Clarion, I just may do that since I love reading them. Exceptional articles in every issue from some outstanding writers/researchers.


Level 7

I read through this blog as was so interested in will read it again. The research and history is what makes a blog so that we may learn. I'm of the old school. As of now I have no complaints of our coinage. Back in the day i could see the reason for change.Many coins didn't make it like the flying eagle cent. I liked that I own one. Why? Well the series did not go far. Its very short compared to today's coinage. The large cent is to me a beautiful coin but it's a hole maker. Your pockets would tear . Have some of them and a Gold piece and a silver dollar. This made for a heavy time in coinage.. I will be back. Ok I gave it another read. I have to agree this should be published. Everything you need is there. Great job. Mike

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