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One of the first coins struck at the U.S. Mint was the Large Cent.  This large, clunky copper coin was struck from 1793 to 1857, inclusive, with the exception of 1815, when a fire forced the closing of the Mint.

Three design types appeared in 1793, each an attempted improvement over the previous. 

The first design, known as the 1793 "Chain" Cent, features a low-relief head of Liberty with fine, flowing locks of hair.  The reverse shows a chain of fifteen links, connected in a never-ending loop.  Initial reaction to the coins was quite negative: Liberty appeared to be in a fright and the chain was seen by many as representing bondage and slavery as opposed to strength and union.

As a result, Liberty's hair was strengthened and the chain was replaced with a wreath.  Known as the 1793 "Wreath" Cent, this design fared little better than its predecessor and was soon replaced.

The "Liberty Cap" design turned out to be a little more enduring.  Minted from 1794 to 1796, this design type is full of interesting varieties, many of them rare.  In 1795, the weight of the Large Cent was reduced and the edge lettering was replaced with a plain edge.  Some of the 1797 Large Cents have a curious "Gripped Edge."

In 1796, the "Draped Bust" design appeared.  This type was minted until 1807.  Rare dates in this type include the elusive 1799 and the popular 1804.

The "Classic Head" Large Cent ran from 1808 to 1814.  Although none of the dates are rare, they are hard to find in nice condition.

The "Matron Head" design appeared in 1816 and lasted until 1839.  Scarce dates include 1821 and 1823.  Known as "Middle Dates", this series contains many interesting varieties that are of great interest to a large number of collectors.  Certain rare varieties can be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars.

The final design type is the "Braided Hair" type of 1840 to 1857.  The last year is both scarce as a date and popular as the last year of the denomination.

In 1857, the Large Cent was replaced by the new Small Cent, a much more manageable (but less impressive) coin.

To learn more about U.S. Large Cents, we recommend the following books (click on any title to purchase the book):

"Penny Whimsy" by Dr. William H. Sheldon

"Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States Cents 1793-1814" by Walter Breen and Mark Borckardt

"United States Large Cents, Volumes I & II" by William C. Noyes

"United States Copper Cents 1816-1857" by Howard R. Newcomb

"The Cent Book 1816-1839" by John D. Wright

"Attribution Guide For United States Large Cents 1840-1857", 2nd edition by J.R. Grellman and Jules Reiver

1793 Chain Cent Obverse  1793 Chain Cent Reverse
1793 Flowing Hair, Chain Reverse Large Cents

Images courtesy of Heritage Numismatic Auctions

Obverse of 1793 Wreath Cent  Reverse of 1793 Wreath Cent
1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath Reverse
Images courtesy of Heritage Numismatic Auctions

Obverse of 1794 Liberty Cap Large Cent  Reverse of 1794 Liberty Cap Large Cent
Liberty With Cap Type Large Cents (1793-1796)
Images courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Inc.

Draped Bust Large Cents (1796-1807)
Images courtesy of Superior Stamp & Coin

 Obverse of 1810 Classic Head Large Cent  Reverse of 1810 Classic Head Large Cent
Classic Head Large Cents (1808-1814)
Images courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Inc.

Obverse of 1821 Matron Head Large Cent  Reverse of 1821 Matron Head Large Cent
Matron Head Large Cents (1816-1839)
Images courtesy of David Akers Numismatics, Inc.

1852 Large Cent Obverse  1852 Large Cent Reverse
Braided Hair Large Cents (1839-1857)
Images courtesy of
Early American History Auctions


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