James B. Longacre’s Small Cent Design

The cent was not always so diminutive. When the denomination was introduced, the coins were bulky large cents, created in such large size so that the copper content would be worth approximately the face value. This would change after the public grew tired of the large coins and the price of copper began to rise.

The first small cents were designed by James B. Longacre, who would combine two previously used motifs for the obverse and reverse.

The eagle appears on the obverse design, in mid flight. This is similar to the depiction that Christian Gobrecht had prepared for the silver dollars patterns of 1836 to 1839. The bald eagle was a popular element on coin designs, notably appearing on the reverse design for most of the gold and silver denominations of the era.

On the reverse is a wreath of cotton, corn, what, and tobacco, which encloses the denomination expressed as “One Cent”. The use of agricultural elements was popular within coinage, illustrating the importance of these crops to the United States.

To introduce the denomination, the US Mint would strike a small number of patterns dated 1856. These were distributed to important people, but also sold to collectors in small numbers. When the concept proved popular, the coins were struck in millions for the following two years in 1857 and 1858. The concept of the small cent was adopted and a new design was featured in the following year.

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