The American large cent is a coin with a long history, dating back over a half-century. The huge cent has made an unmistakable effect on American history, from its humble beginnings in the early days of the United States Mint to its eventual extinction at the hands of economic pressures. But, the large cent is more than just a coin; it is a work of art, a symbol of national identity, and a glimpse into a former period.
We’ll go into the interesting world of the American large cent in this article, looking at its origins, design evolution, and long legacy as a highly sought-after collectible.
The History of The American Large Cent
The large cent was one of the first coins made by the newly formed United States Mint and was minted from 1793 through 1857. These copper coins had a range of designs and alterations over the years.
The first large cent, issued in 1793, featured a depiction of Lady Liberty on the obverse and a wreath with a miniature eagle in the center on the reverse. This design was used until 1796 when it was replaced by a larger, more prominent eagle. In 1808, a new design with a classic Liberty head on the obverse and a wreath on the reverse was launched. The eagle was reinstated in 1814, and this design was used until then.
The design of the American large cent has seen various changes over the years. The coin’s diameter was lowered from 29 mm to 27 mm in 1816, and its weight dropped from 13.48 grams to 10.89 grams. In 1835, a new design was launched with a seated Liberty on the obverse and a wreath on the reverse. This design was used until 1857 when the last large cent was produced.
In its day, the large cent was a popular currency that was used in everyday transactions across the United States. The American large cent, however, was eventually replaced by the smaller, more cost-effective penny as the value of copper climbed and the expense of minting the currency became prohibitive.
The most valuable American large cents
The value of an American large cent varies hugely based on its scarcity, condition, and historical relevance. According to recent auction sales, here are some of the most valued American large cents:
1. 1793 Chain AMERICA large cent
One of the most expensive and historically significant coins in America is the 1793 Chain AMERICA large cent. It is also one of the earliest large cents ever created, having been struck in Philadelphia during the first year of the United States Mint’s operation. The coin’s front depicts Lady Liberty with flowing hair, while the reverse depicts a chain of 15 links with the word “AMERICA” etched inside.
The Chain AMERICA design was short-lived because of popular and political criticism of the chain as a symbol of slavery. The design was shortly changed, and subsequent issues featured a wreath instead.
The 1793 Chain AMERICA large cent is extremely scarce, with only 12 to 15 known examples. One of these coins sold for an incredible $1,175,000 at auction in 2015. This insane price reflects the coin’s rarity, historical significance, and overall beauty.
2. 1794 Head of 1794 large cent
The 1794 Head of 1794 large cent is a coin that has its own story to tell. It harkens back to a time when the United States was still a nascent nation with a promising future. This coin, which was minted in the second year of the United States Mint’s operation, is a real rarity, with only about 140 known to exist.
The design of the 1794 Head of 1794 large cent is what distinguishes it. The obverse depicts Lady Liberty in profile, with flowing hair and a tranquil face. On the back, a wreath surrounds the inscriptions “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and “ONE CENT” in the center. The minute intricacies of this coin, however, are what make it so appealing to collectors.
The “Head of 1794” moniker relates to a minor modification in the design of Lady Liberty’s hair, which was made mid-year. Coins with the older design are more precious and uncommon than those with the later design.
A 1794 Head of 1794 large cent sold for $940,000 at auction in 2015, demonstrating the coin’s brilliance.
3. 1795 Reeded Edge large cent
The 1795 Reeded Edge large cent coin is both mysterious and intriguing. Only three known copies of this coin, which was produced in the early days of the United States Mint, are known to survive.
The Reeded Edge design was an experiment employed by the US Mint to prevent counterfeiting. Tiny vertical lines, or “reeds,” were added to the coin’s edge to aid identify coins that had been shaved or altered in any manner.
Despite its utilitarian purpose, the Reeded Edge design was short-lived because the additional operations necessary to create the edges were too time-consuming and costly.
The design was scrapped after only a few months, making the 1795 Reeded Edge large cent one of the most scarce and sought-after coins.
One of these coins fetched an astonishing $881,250 at auction in 2012, indicating its scarcity and one-of-a-kind design. Despite its monetary value, the 1795 Reeded Edge large cent is a work of art, a breathtaking depiction of the early days of the United States Mint and the ingenious ways used to ensure the currency’s integrity.
4. 1799 Draped Bust large cent
If there is an American coin that can exude elegance simply with its design, that is the 1799 Draped Bust large cent. This coin was struck in the early nineteenth century and depicts Lady Liberty with flowing hair, draped in a garment that gracefully folds around her figure. On the back, a wreath surrounds the inscriptions “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and “ONE CENT” in the center.
Nonetheless, the 1799 Draped Bust large cent is a rare and valuable piece of American numismatic history. One of these coins sold for an astonishing $822,500 at auction in 2013, demonstrating its scarcity and brilliance.
The connection to the early days of the United States is what makes the 1799 Draped Bust large cent so unique. It was struck amid a period of considerable change and transformation, as the nascent nation navigated the problems of nation-building and establishing a stable economy. The coin serves as a physical reminder of the difficulties and accomplishments that shaped the country we know today.
5. 1804 Crosslet 4 large cent
The 1804 Crosslet 4 large cent is an eye-catching coin even for those who aren’t old in the industry. This currency is notable for its distinctive design, which includes a crosslet – a miniature cross – inside the number “4” on the obverse side of the coin. This design was a mistake caused by a faulty punch used to make the coin die.
Despite its unplanned origins, the 1804 Crosslet 4 large cent is highly sought after by collectors due to its one-of-a-kind design. There are just a few hundred known copies of this coin, making it one of the most valuable large cents in America.
In 2015, one of these coins sold for over $400,000 at auction. But beyond its monetary value, the 1804 Crosslet 4 large cent is a piece of art that captures the spirit of innovation and attention to detail that defined the early days of the United States Mint.
This coin is a reminder that mistakes can sometimes lead to unexpected beauty and value, and that even the smallest details can have a big impact. The 1804 Crosslet 4 large cent is a testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of the early mint workers who worked tirelessly to produce the coins that helped build the foundation of the American economy.
6. 1811/10 large cent
A remarkable piece of history is the 1811/10 Large Cent. This coin, struck during a period of enormous change and upheaval, shows the perseverance and drive of a nascent nation on the verge of war.
The coin’s odd “1811/10” date demonstrates the United States Mint’s ingenuity. During the coin’s manufacture, the die used to imprint the date was mistakenly struck twice, resulting in the odd and memorable date we see today on this coin.
Lady Liberty, with her flowing hair and calm smile, is depicted on the obverse side of the coin. She is surrounded by thirteen stars, which represent the thirteen founding colonies, and the date “1811” is engraved at the bottom.
On the flip side, you’ll see an oak leaf wreath tied with a bow at the bottom. The words “ONE CENT” are surrounded by another wreath of olive leaves inside the wreath.
Tensions between the United States and Britain were increasing in 1811, and the war was looming, and this can be seen here. This coin was issued during a period of severe uncertainty and suffering in the country, but it also represents the power of surviving hard times time and searching for a better future.
One of the most expensive 1811/10 Large Cents ever sold is the MS-66 BN (Brown) specimen, which was auctioned off by Stack’s Bowers Galleries in January 2019 for $1,020,000. This particular coin is seen by many as one of the finest examples of the 1811/10 Large Cent, with a high grade and a well-preserved strike.
7. Braided Hair Variety (1839 – 1857)
Collectors and numismatic enthusiasts have a soft spot for the Braided Hair Large Cent, which was produced between 1839 and 1857. This classic design depicts Lady Liberty with her hair tied back in a braided bun, encircled by stars and the inscriptions “Liberty” and the year of minting.
On the back is a wreath composed of oak and olive branches that is joined together with a ribbon at the bottom. The denomination “One Cent” is printed in large letters inside the wreath. What truly distinguishes the Braided Hair Large Cent is its rich history and the numerous tales it tells about America’s early days.
The country was going through a period of immense upheaval and change when these coins were produced. Slavery was still legal in many parts of the country, and tensions between the North and South were building over issues of state rights and the survival of the Union.
Whether you’re an experienced collector or simply a fan of American history, the Braided Hair Large Cent will captivate and inspire you with its timeless beauty.
8. 1813 large cent
With a backstory as distinct as the coin itself, the 1813 Large Cent is an intriguing piece of American history. This coin, struck during a period of war and uncertainty, represents the tenacity and perseverance of a new nation striving for its independence.
The picture of Lady Liberty, with her flowing hair and tranquil smile, appears on the obverse side of the coin. She is surrounded by thirteen stars, which represent the thirteen founding colonies, and the date “1813” is engraved at the bottom.
A wreath of olive leaves is tied with a bow at the bottom on the reverse side. The words “ONE CENT” are surrounded by an oak leaf wreath inside wreath.
The rarity and worth of this coin set it apart from others of its age. While the United States was at war with Britain in 1813, the manufacture of large cents was severely restricted. The 1813 Large Cent is one of the most sought-after coins in American numismatics as a result of its scarcity.
The Sheldon NC-1 variant, which is thought to be the only known example of this specific kind and has sold for more than a million dollars in the past, is one prominent example of an 1813 Large Cent.
Finally, American large cents are more than just coins. These are historical artifacts that tell the tale of a country’s march to independence, economic stability, and worldwide domination. Each coin, from the 1793 Chain AMERICA large cent to the 1804 Crosslet 4 large cent, illustrates a distinct period in American history.
While collectors and enthusiasts continue to enjoy and adore these coins, they assist to preserve an essential aspect of American history for future generations.