Images courtesy of Ira
& Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles
Dates of issue:
During the 19th century the
United States went through a period of experimentation regarding our
coins. The mainstay decimal currency system demanded the logical
denominations of the half cent, cent, half dime, dime, half dollar,
dollar, $2.50 quarter eagle, $5 half eagle and $10 eagle (eventually the
$20 double eagle would be added following significant finds of gold in
California). In between these logical denominations were others. The
oddest, which has survived to this day, is the quarter dollar. There is
nothing decimal about this denomination. It is based on the quarter of a
dollar made by taking a Spanish milled dollar coin and cutting it into pie
shaped pieces to make two-bit “change.” Another oddity that
never fit into this system is the $3 gold coin denomination. This
will be explored further elsewhere.
During the 19th century
several other denominations were tried. These were the 2-cent, 3-cent,
20-cent and $4 Stella denominations. None of these experiments survived.
The concept of a 2-cent denomination coin actually dates from 1806. In
that year Congress failed to pass legislation introducing the denomination
after Mint Director Robert Patterson sent a brass button with two of the
billon composition blanks for the proposed coins to Rep. Uri Tracy (Dem.,
NY), the primary sponsor for the bill, to demonstrate how easy it was to
substitute a button for the proposed coin. Tracy got the message.
provision to the Mint bill which would have introduced the denomination
was dropped from the bill in 1836. Since it took some time before it was
decided the proposed 2-cent coin clause would be dropped, Mint employees
Christian Gobrecht and Franklin Peale produced patterns during this time.
Gobrecht and Peale concluded from their experiments they could not produce
a coin which would not necessarily be confused with a button.
a Dec. 8, 1863 letter from Mint Director James Pollock to Secretary of the
Treasury Salmon P. Chase the Mint director recommended a 2-cent coin be
introduced in what was called “French bronze,” the metal composition
in which the new small cent was initially struck.
had failed to pass a provision twice through which a 2-cent coin could be
produced. Chase liked the idea and ensured it would be included in new
legislation before Congress. The proposal was included in the Mint Bill
passed April 22, 1864 by Congress. A new coin denomination was born.
2-cent coin was the first to bear the familiar US coin motto “In God We
Trust.” The original Pollock proposal included a coin with the motto
“God Our Trust.” This was altered by Chase, likely because Brown
University, from which Chase graduated, uses the motto “In Deo Speramus”
or “In God we hope.”
denomination was not a success and was only struck between 1863 (patterns
in 1863, circulating coins beginning in 1864) and 1873. Prototype patterns
dated 1863 and early 1864 Proofs were struck with a small letter legend.
The first business strikes of 1864 were produced from dies made from the
same Small Letter variety hub. A
new hub with the well known Large Letter variety obverse legend was used
to make the dies for the majority of the coins of 1864 and for all coins
of this denomination struck through 1873.
the master hub didn’t change during most of this period (a new hub
was introduced in 1871, but this did not change the legend variety) the
date digits were punched into the dies by hand. As a result of this policy
there are numerous date varieties to be collected including the 1865/4 and
was Mint Engraver James Barton Longacre who designed the 2-cent coin.
William Barber succeeded Longacre upon Longacre’s death in 1869. Barber
proceeded to make the new hub for the coins of 1871 and later. Although
the legend variety did not change as it did during 1863, close examination
of coins of these later dates will exhibit such subtle changes as the
reduced size of the berries and the sharper clarity of the stems.
of these subtle diagnostic differences is actually important since there
is some indication of a restrike of the 1864 coins using dies made from
this later master hub. There are also two major varieties of the
1871 2-cent coin due to the date digits punched into the working dies.
it looked like the 2-cent denomination had been accepted by the
public and was about to successfully circulate. It was later determined
the only reason the public accepted the coin was the chronic shortage of
coins experienced during the Civil War. Once the war ended and
regular coinage began to appear again in circulation demand for the 2-cent
coin dropped off the end of the earth. Collectors will find many well
circulated coins of 1864 to 1866, but beginning with 1867 the 2-cent coins
are typically found in better conditions, even when circulated.
is some question regarding if there are restrikes of the 1873 issue.
The rare Open 3 date variety was not discovered until 1957. This alone
would not necessarily make it suspect of being a restrike, however close
examination indicates weak strikes and a somewhat careless production
quality inconsistent with the more common Closed 3 variety.
is a short but challenging series to collect. The 1864 Large Motto 2-cent
coin is the most commonly encountered date. The quality, color and surface
condition of Proofs should be treated the same as for any other copper
composition coin in the US series.