Large Cents (1793-1857)

Image Courtesy of David Lawrence Rare Coins

Image Courtesy of David Lawrence Rare Coins

Large cents have now come to be known as pennies, but when they were first produced this name was as foreign as the coin itself. As one of the first styles of coin produced by the US Mint, the Large Cent was determined by Congress to have a face value of 1/100th of a Dollar. Unlike today’s pennies, these large single-cent coins were closer in size to a modern half-dollar.

Though these coins were first put into production during the early 1790s, they continued rolling off the presses until the middle of the 19th century. This means that every year from 1793 to 1857 (with the exception of 1815) the Large Cent was one of the most heavily produced coins by the US Mint.

The War of 1812 played a major role in the absence of a Large Cent edition from 1815, as a wartime embargo prevented blank copper planchets from being shipped to the US. Though the Mint worked with the supply of planchets it already had on-hand, they had run completely out by the time it came to produce the 1815 edition. Fortunately, the war with Great Britain was put to a halt in 1816, at which point the US Mint immediately ordered more copper blanks to be used to create Large Cents. Another interesting aspect of the Large Cent is that they were only produced by the Philadelphia Mint.

Large Cent Design History

As far as the coin’s design is concerned, the Large Cent always kept things simple. With that said, however, the design of this single-cent coin changed many times throughout its long time in production. The initial design(s), which can be found on Large Cents minted in 1793, was very simplistic in its design. The obverse side of the coin depicted a right-facing Lady Liberty with hair that seemed to be windblown. The coin’s reverse, however, was the subject of much controversy as it depicted a ring of chains which many believed to be designer Henry Voigt alluding to his support of slavery.

Though the first design was not warmly welcomed, it is of particular importance to numismatists because it was the first coinage produced by the US Mint by way of the Mint’s own equipment and processes. Only little more than 30,000 were minted.

Before moving to a new 1794 edition, the US Mint gave in to public opinion and altered the design of both the coin’s reverse and obverse sides. The coin’s new reverse depicted an ornate wreath, which was much more accepted than the ring of chains. Though still rare, the Wreath reverse Large Cent had a mintage of more than 60,000.

Despite Adam Eckfeldt’s redesign of the 1793 Large Cent, Mint Director David Rittenhouse hired Joseph Wright to completely revamp the coin’s design for the 1794 release. Wright’s design also depicted Lady Liberty on the obverse of the coin, but made her hair neater and added a Phrygian cap, a historic symbol of freedom. The coin’s reverse maintained a design which boasted a wreath, but the wreath on the 1794 edition was made to identically resemble a laurel wreath. More readily accepted by the general public, the design unveiled in 1794 continued in production for three years before being replaced by the Draped Bust design.

In 1796, a man by the name of Robert Scot completely redesigned the United States coinage, including the Large Cent. The new obverse depicted a right-facing Lady Liberty, but she was more ornate-looking, with a ribbon in her hair and drapery near her bust. As opposed to the Laurel wreath design conceived a few years prior, the 1796 edition featured an olive wreath. This design seemed to be even more accepted than those previous to it as it was maintained up until 1808.

In 1808, Robert Scot’s assistant engraver John Reich was appointed as the person who was going to redesign Scot’s Draped Bust design. The new style of Large Cent has come to be known as the Classic Head design as it now featured a left-facing Lady Liberty with ornate headgear reminiscent of a crown. This headgear, known as a fillet, was said to resemble very closely the headgear given to storied male athletes in Ancient Greece. The copper utilized to make these coins was of a higher quality than ever used before, and because of this the coins were softer and more prone to showing signs of wear and tear.

Again, in 1816, Chief Engraver Scot was forced to redesign the coin once more. This time, the image of Lady Liberty was made to make her look more mature, which is why this design has become known as the Matron Head design. In some numismatic circles, this particular Large Cent design is known as a Coronet Cent. These coins were minted up until 1839, when the design was forced to change yet again.

In 1835, the new Chief Engraver of the US Mint was Christian Gobrecht, and he was tasked with redesigning the Large Cent for the last time. Gobrecht reverse-aged Lady Liberty to give her a younger look, and her hair was put into a braid. This was the last design change the Large Cent went through, and this design was minted up until the late 1850s.

As you can clearly see, there are quite a few different possibilities when it comes to collecting the Large Cent. Being that the coin was in production for nearly 100 years, it would follow that many have survived to today, but such is not the case. Especially when it comes to the oldest minted versions, these coins are quite difficult to find, and even harder to find in pristine condition.

Large Cent Values

The Large Cent is arguably the most popular type of US Coin for collectors to get their hands on. Being that these were some of the first coins to have ever been the official coinage of the United States, each and every piece is a piece of US history.

For collectors, even Large Cents in awful condition are a prize. Many of these coins are 200 years old or more, so it is not really expected that they will be in great shape. For this reason, it is easy to understand why collectors are willing to pay so much for a Large Cent that is in above average condition.

Large Cents

DATE GOOD FINE EXTREMELY FINE UNCIRCULATED
1793 Flowing Hair $8,000 $19,000 $65,000 $125,000
1793 Liberty Cap $6,000 $16,000 $80,000 $170,000
1794 Liberty Cap $370 $800 $4,000 $6,100
1795 Liberty Cap $350 $1,250 $6,000 $7,500
1796 Liberty Cap $400 $1,350 $6,000 $12,000
1796 Draped Bust $250 $900 $6,000 $12,500
1797 Draped Bust $140 $425 $3,500 $7,750
1798 Draped Bust $135 $550 $7,500 $14,000
1799 Draped Bust $3,500 $12,500 $80,000 $210,000
1800 Draped Bust $75 $265 $3,850 $7,000
1801 Draped Bust $75 $225 $1,500 $3,000
1802 Draped Bust $65 $200 $1,000 $1,900
1803 Draped Bust $65 $175 $1,000 $1,450
1804 Draped Bust $1,200 $4,500 $16,000 $47,000
1805 Draped Bust $60 $175 $1,200 $2,500
1806 Draped Bust $70 $225 $2,000 $3,000
1807 Draped Bust $60 $185 $1,200 $2,300
1808 Classic $80 $325 $1,850 $3,250
1809 Classic $120 $500 $3,750 $7,200
1810 Classic $80 $325 $1,700 $2,750
1811 Classic $85 $500 $5,200 $10,000
1812 Classic $80 $325 $1,600 $2,500
1813 Classic $60 $325 $1,600 $2,500
1814 Classic $80 $325 $1,600 $2,400
1816 Liberty Head $20 $45 $190 $300
1817 Liberty Head $20 $40 $140 $225
1818 Liberty Head $20 $40 $135 $225
1819 Liberty Head $22 $40 $275 $375
1820 Liberty Head $25 $45 $335 $550
1821 Liberty Head $35 $135 $1,300 $2,300
1822 Liberty Head $25 $45 $425 $700
1824 Liberty Head $85 $500 $4,000 $8,500
1825 Liberty Head $20 $40 $325 $650
1826 Liberty Head $25 $100 $1,000 $1,500
1827 Liberty Head $20 $40 $225 $425
1828 Liberty Head $20 $35 $210 $410
1829 Liberty Head $20 $35 $200 $385
1830 Liberty Head $20 $35 $190 $300
1831 Liberty Head $20 $30 $150 $250
1832 Liberty Head $20 $30 $150 $250
1833 Liberty Head $20 $30 $150 $250
1834 Liberty Head $20 $75 $550 $1,250
1835 Liberty Head $20 $35 $225 $400
1836 Liberty Head $20 $35 $125 $250
1837 Liberty Head $20 $35 $125 $250
1838 Liberty Head $20 $35 $120 $225
1839 Liberty Head $20 $30 $110 $265
1840 Liberty Head $20 $30 $85 $200
1841 Liberty Head $20 $35 $125 $250
1842 Liberty Head $20 $30 $85 $220
1843 Liberty Head $20 $30 $85 $160
1844 Liberty Head $20 $30 $85 $160
1845 Liberty Head $20 $30 $75 $135
1846 Liberty Head $20 $30 $75 $135
1847 Liberty Head $20 $30 $75 $135
1848 Liberty Head $20 $30 $75 $130
1849 Liberty Head $20 $30 $100 $150
1850 Liberty Head $20 $30 $60 $125
1851 Liberty Head $20 $30 $65 $125
1852 Liberty Head $20 $30 $65 $125
1853 Liberty Head $20 $30 $65 $125
1854 Liberty Head $20 $30 $65 $125
1855 Liberty Head $20 $30 $65 $125
1856 Liberty Head $20 $30 $65 $130
1857 Liberty Head $60 $100 $200 $300
Source: Red Book