The ephemeral two-cent coin


The Two cents through Kathleen duncanCutting-edge rarities ……

The Two cents conceived by James longacre was minted for only 10 years from 1864 to 1873. The design made a singular and lasting contribution to the nation’s history by introducing the motto WE BELIEVE IN GOD to be cashed for the first time. The currency and the coin itself were both a direct result of the Civil War, when coin shortages were a serious problem and the nation experienced a strong religious passion.

By the end of 1862, when the war was in its 21st month, virtually all coins had disappeared from circulation. Hoarders, speculators and frightened Americans have put aside any coins they can get their hands on, including base metal emissions. Inventive entrepreneurs created bronze tokens the size of a penny that promised repayment in goods, services or money. Those “Civil War Tokens”Quickly gained wide acceptance as a useful monetary substitute.

The success of tokens has provided evidence that Americans tolerate money (or money substitutes) with little intrinsic value. The Currency of the United States took note and began to prepare a penny modified to the pattern of the tokens. This cent has retained the popular Indian head design but on a thin bronze blank instead of the thick copper-nickel one then used. At the same time, Mint officials began to seriously consider a two-cent coin of similar composition in order to alleviate the coin shortage even more quickly.

On December 8, 1863, the director of La Monnaie James pollock written to the treasury secretary Salmon P. Chase recommending the issuance of a Two Cent coin in French bronze, the same alloy chosen for the thinner Indian cent. Pollock submitted two proposed designs, both by Chief Engraver James B. Longacre, the designer of the Indian Hundred. One carried the head of George washington; the other represented a shield and arrows. Pollock and Chase both favored the latter.

Until then, the American currency had not carried any reference to a supreme being. But that was about to change, in large part thanks to the heightened religious sentiment brought about by the Civil War. The motto first appeared in Francis Scott Key Poem from 1814 entitled “Defense of Fort M’Henry”. The fourth verse includes the line: “And this be our motto:” In God is our trust! This poem would later be adopted as the national anthem of the United States under the name “The Star-Spangled Banner”. IN GOD WE TRUST is displayed on a ribbon above the shield on the obverse. The date appears directly under the shield. The reverse bears a crown surrounding “2 CENTS” and circled by the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

The Two Cent coin was licensed as part of the Currency Law of April 22, 1864. In 1864, a few thousand corporate strikes were struck from a prototype Master Hub with the obverse displaying the motto in small letters. A new center with large letters was used to make dies for the majority of the 1864 production and for all subsequent dates in the series. The Small motto is one of the two keys in the series with the low mintage 1872. 1864 Small motto coins are rare in all qualities and particularly elusive in full red condition. They finish at MS66RD with six classified at PCGS. In the Proof series, the small currency from 1864 is a major rarity, with a mintage of only 30 coins. Examples of gems are worth six digits.

Conversely, the Great motto of 1864 Business strike is the most common problem and a perfect choice for a type room. All numbers in the series, however, are becoming scarce in MS67RD, with only four 1864 Large Motto examples achieving this PCGS rating. 1864 Major proof currencies are scarce, with an estimated circulation of only 100 and ratings essentially exceeding the PR65RD, although only one PR66RD is reported to the PCGS.

About 13.64 million Two Cent coins were minted in 1865, down slightly from the nearly 20 million produced in 1864. 1865 are relatively common up to and including MS66RD, but only three MS67RDs have been classified by PCGS. There are two main varieties of dates, the Plain 5 and the Fantasy 5. The tip of 5 is either flat or upward curved respectively. Both appear to be of similar rarity. Keep in mind that PCGS has only been designating both varieties for a few years, so most of the 1865 graded are not assigned to either variety. The proofs are all of the Plain 5 variety. The exact production of Proof for the series is unknown after 1864, as Mint employees did not begin recording the number of minor Proof issues produced until 1878, but estimates range from a minimum of 500 for the 1865 to a maximum of 1000 for the 1870.

The 1866 is the third most common date with an approximate circulation of three million. The top rated examples are three in PCGS MS66 + RD. Parts in full red condition above MS65 are rare.

1867 is roughly tied with 1866 with a circulation of just under three million. Two MS66 + RD are tied for top rated honors in the PCGS. As with the 1866, examples listed above Gem are rare with a red designation. Probably no more than a few hundred examples have survived across all classes of the elusive Obverse of the doubled corner of 1867. The doubling is very visible on “In God We Trust” as well as the arrows and leaves on the left side of the crown. Unfortunately, the date is not affected. All uncirculated DDO examples are rare and only 10 Gem examples exist in all color designations with the only finer example being a single MS66RB.

1868 saw a production similar to 1867 with just under three million. Although they are relatively easy to locate in the Red-Brown state up to Gem, the MS65RD examples are rare and only seven have received an MS66RD at PCGS with a single MS67RD at the top of the census.

In 1869, the circulation was reduced by almost half to just over 1.5 million. Examples are available up to MS65RD with something more rare. PCGS reports three in MS66RD, one MS66 + RD, and surprisingly three in MS67RD.

From 1870 onwards circulation fell below the million mark, and Two Cent’s issues of the 1870s are all rarer than their 1860s counterparts. 1870, PCGS reports only four examples rated higher than MS65RD, two MS65 + RD, one MS66RD, and one MS66 + RD.

Although the 1871 has a slightly lower circulation than the 1870, apparently a few others have survived above Gem level with two in MS65 + RD, eight in MS66RD, one in MS66 + RD, and a single MS67RD.

The 1872 is the undisputed key to this ephemeral series. Its circulation of just 65,000 is less than 10% of the next lowest circulation of 721,250 for the 1871. It is rare in any uncirculated condition, even in the brown color designation. Reds are rare and any red coin will be evaluated in all five digits, with PCGS reporting three in MS66RD, one MS66 + RD, and a single MS67RD at the top of the census. Interestingly, neither of the top two classified copies appeared at public auction. Proof dies have been used exclusively for proofs and corporate strikes this year.

All 1873 two hundred coins were invented as evidence since this denomination was scheduled for retirement at the beginning of the year being abolished by the Currency Act of 1873. The original variety is known as Closed 3. Although not really closed, it was determined that the 3 closely resembles an “8”. The mintage of this date was reconstituted in 600 coins having the variety Closed 3 and 500 with the Open 3, plus 46 additional coins of indeterminate variety minted for the minor Proof series.

Hungry for all kinds of coins, Americans first adopted the two-cent coin. Acceptance and circulation levels dropped dramatically after the war, in part due to the production of the Nickel at three hundred from 1865 and the Nickel Shield in 1866. Less than 3.2 million Two Cent coins were minted in 1866, and by 1870 production fell below the million mark. The Mint issued only 65,000 coins for circulation in 1872. Finally, in 1873, only proofs were produced. Large quantities of Two Cent coins were bought back by the government in the 1870s and beyond. About 17,000,000 of the 45,600,000 copies issued had been purchased by the Treasury in 1909. These were melted down and recovered.

Due to its short duration, a Two Cent coin collection is relatively easy to complete. A basic set of traffic strikes includes one of each of the nine dates. A classic set adds the rare 1864 Small motto. And for a real challenge, the full set includes both 1864 varieties, both 1865 varieties, and the uber-rare 1867 Double Die obverse. The Proof set is sometimes assembled with 10 pieces (one from each date), 11 pieces (both varieties from 1873) or 12 pieces (including the very rare 1864 Small Devise). Commercial Strikes and Proof sets can be assembled in brown, red and brown, red or a combination of these, allowing for a wide range of interesting options for collectors to choose from.

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