The Transition from Large Cent to Small Cent: The 1856 Flying Eagle

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The 1856 Flying Eagle Cent holds a unique place in the annals of American numismatic history. As the first small-sized cent in U.S. coinage, it marked a significant departure from the larger, copper-based coins that came before it. The Flying Eagle Cent was minted for only a short period, from 1856 to 1858, making it a rare and sought-after coin for collectors. This article will explore the design, history, and significance of the 1856 Flying Eagle Cent.1856 Flying Eagle Half Cent obverse and reverse side by side

Designed by James B. Longacre, the Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, the Flying Eagle Cent featured an obverse with a striking image of an eagle in flight, surrounded by 13 stars to represent the original colonies. The reverse depicted a simple wreath enclosing the denomination “ONE CENT” and the inscription “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.”

Prior to the introduction of the Flying Eagle Cent, the United States had relied on large copper cents, which had been in circulation since 1793. However, by the 1850s, the price of copper had risen, making the production of large cents economically unfeasible. Moreover, the large size and weight of these coins were increasingly unpopular among the public.

In response to these challenges, the U.S. Mint sought to create a new, smaller cent. The Coinage Act of 1857 authorized the production of the small-sized cent, and the Flying Eagle design was chosen. The 1856 Flying Eagle Cent was initially produced as a pattern coin, with only a limited number minted for government officials and dignitaries to review. Estimates suggest that approximately 1,500 to 2,000 coins were struck with the 1856 date.

Due to the positive response to the new design, the Flying Eagle Cent went into full-scale production in 1857. Despite its brief run, the coin played a crucial role in American numismatic history, as it set the stage for the Indian Head Cent, which followed in 1859, and the eventual introduction of the Lincoln Cent in 1909.

The 1856 Flying Eagle Cent is a highly desirable coin for collectors due to its historical significance and rarity. The limited number of coins minted and the fact that it was a pattern coin make it a valuable addition to any numismatic collection.

Coins in higher grades are particularly rare, and their value can range from several thousand dollars to over $20,000, depending on the condition. Even in lower grades, the 1856 Flying Eagle Cent can command a premium due to its status as the first small-sized cent in U.S. history.

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