When the US Mint was opened in 1792, the different denominations were determined including the cent. However, the cent back then would be different than the cent you see today. Starting in 1793, the cent would have a diameter around 27 mm. and a weight of 13.48 grams. By 1796, it would have a diameter of 29 mm. and a weight of 10.89 grams. This made it weigh more than the quarter, but close in diameter. These Large Cents were 100% copper and were minted every year from 1793 to 1857 with the exception of one year.
Between 1812 and 1815, the United States was in war with England for a second time, the War of 1812. At that time, the mint was getting copper planchets from England, and with the war, the number of Large Cents minted in 1813 and 1814 would be reduced to 418,000 and 357,000 respectively. With the copper shortage, there would be hoarding and as a results, no Large Cents would be minted in 1815. By 1816, Large Cents would be minted back in full force.
Large Cents had a number of different designs including the Flowing Hair (1793), Liberty Cap (1793-1796), Draped Bust (1796-1807), Classic Head (1808-1814), Matron Head (1816-1839) and Braided Hair (1839-1857). Large and Half Cents were not popular with everyone. People were more fond of the silver coins. The US Mint were also not happy with them because it was costing more to mint and release copper coins.
In 1856, a pattern coin was looked at to replace the Large Cent. This pattern coin would have a diameter of 19 mm., 10 mm. smaller than the Large Cent, and only 88% copper. The other 12% would be nickel. There would be between 2,000 and 3,000 of these pattern coins minted in proof to show Congress what the new cent could look like. These new cents would be approved with the Coinage Act of 1857, eliminating the Half and Large Cents. These new cents would be known as Flying Eagle Cents and would be minted from 1857 to 1858. The Small Cent was born.
1859 would introduce the Indian Cent, but it wasn’t meant to be a design of a Native American, but Liberty wearing an Indian Headdress. From 1859 to 1864, the Indian Cent would be the same weight and composition as the Flying Eagle Cent. In 1864, the US was in the middle of the Civil War and during this period, people were hoarding cents because nickel was in short supply. This introduced the Coinage Act of 1864 which would take nickel out of cents and make it bronze (95% copper and 5% tin and zinc). This would make the cent weigh less and the composition would continue through the end of the Indian Cent in 1909.
In 1909, a new design was put on the cent to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. The Lincoln Cent, like the Indian Cent before it, would be a bronze composition from 1909 – 1942. In 1943, copper was in high demand during World War II, so the 1943 cents would be made of steel. Between 1944 and 1946, cartridge cases made of copper and zinc were used for the cents. By 1947, the Lincoln Cents were made of bronze again, but in 1962, the tin was removed and would stay that way till 1982. The price of copper went up in the 1970’s and in 1974, an aluminum cent was considered. It was never released, but in 1982, it was determined to make the cent 99% zinc and just coated with copper.
The cent went through many changes in the last 200+ years, not just from Large to Small cent, but the composition of it. What do you think about the difference between the Large Cent and Small Cent?