This weekend, my two boys decided they wanted the spend the money they”d been saving on a ping pong table. They scraped together their birthday/Christmas money, their allowance and chore money, and even dumped their piggy banks. Their dad paid for the table with our credit card then the kids paid us back. So here I go to the bank with a ziplock full of $25 in dimes, nickles, and pennies. Carrying all that heavy change around made me think about what currency was like in the 19th century. Early on, bank notes were not trusted because if the bank failed, your note became worthless. Therefore people tended to prefer carrying their money around in coin form. But what form did those coins take?
I did a little digging at some of my favorite currency research sites*, and I thought I”d share some of what I found. Today we”ll look just at cents. A penny may not go far in our current economy, but back in the 1800″s they sometimes even made change for them–with half cents.
Half cent coins were made of pure copper and were nearly the size of a modern-day quarter. These were popular at the beginning of the 19th century, but as inflation drove prices upward, the need for such a coin dwindled. It was completely abandoned prior to the Civil War.
As you can see, the design on the large cents were nearly identical to that of the half cents. Yet, like the name implies, the large cents were made with twice as much copper as the half cents and were larger and heavier. When copper prices rose throughout the 1800″s, the large cents became too expensive to continue making, so in 1857 they started making small cents, the pennies we are familiar with today.
The Flying Eagle cent was introduced in 1856 and was minted for just 3 years before being replaced with the Indian Head cent. In 1909, the Lincoln cent became America”s first circulating coin to portray a president. It originally featured the “Wheat Ears” reverse design, which was changed to the Lincoln Memorial in 1959.
And did you know there there were also 2 cent and 3 cent coins? The 1864 Coin Act called for a 2¢ copper coin. This Civil War-era coin was America’s first and only 2¢ piece. It was also the first coin to carry the inscription IN GOD WE TRUST. The 2¢ coin was minted from 1864-1873.
The 3¢ coin was forged from silver and many hoarded it during the war. When a shortage occurred, the government opted to change the composition to copper nickel. These new coins became known as 3¢ nickles because of the material used to strike them.
So what is a penny worth to you? Do you have a lucky penny? If you saw a penny on the ground, would you stop to pick it up? Did you ever save up your coins as a child to buy something special? What was it?
*Information gathered from the Littleton Coin Company .