1856 – 1858
The collecting of small cents is second in popularity only to the Morgan Dollar. The first small cent was the which was minted for a very short time from 1856 to 1858. A second restrike of the coin was made in 1860, but those are questionable among collectors.
By 1851 it cost the mint $1.06 to produce one dollar’s face value, 100 coins, of the large cent. Large Cents of the time were composed of 100% pure copper and were a huge 27 to 29 mm in diameter. Although the first Flying Eagle Cent was minted in 1856 it wasn’t until 1857 that it was recognized officially as the replacement for the Large Cent. All the way up into 1857 both varieties were minted.
Flying Eagle CentThe decision to begin striking small cents was made by Mint Director James R. Snowden. Snowden borrowed the design for the flying eagle from the Gobrecht Silver Dollar minted in the late 1830s. The wreath design for the reverse of the Flying Eagle Cent was taken from the Gold Dollar. An interesting bit of trivia here is that the small cent was never actually authorized by an Act of Congress.
In 1856 Snowden ordered the minting of around 1,000 Flying Eagles though he did not have official authorization to do so. Technically, the 1856 Flying Eagle Cent was struck and issued illegally.
No one knows exactly how may Flying Eagle Cents were struck in 1856, but around 635 of them were handed out to politicians and other influential people. George W. Rice, a small cent collector, accumulated 756 1856 Flying Eagles and John Beck, another collector, had 531.
Technically speaking, the Flying Eagle proof is not an official U.S. coin, however it is highly sought after. It is believed that somewhere between 1,500 and 2,500 proof pieces were produced. All of these were sold only to collectors and were never released into circulation, although it is assumed that many of them did make their way into circulation as the years went by.
As with the Large Cent, The Flying Eagle Cent was refused by many banks and merchants because they were not legal tender. According to the law at the time only gold and silver could be legal tender.
Even though the Flying Eagle was minted for such a short period of time (1856 to 1858) collectors will find it quite a challenge to complete a set of all dates and varieties. For example, there is the variety known as the “Style of 1856” which has a square shaped “O” in the word “OF”.
Many collectors are happy to acquire one nice example of the Flying Eagle Cent, perfect for a type collector, while others are always searching for those varieties not yet in their collection.
Flying Eagle Cent Specifications
- Diameter: 19 mm
- Weight: 4.7 g
- Composition: 88% Copper 12% Nickel
- Edge: Plain
- Designer: James Barton Longacre
Flying Eagle Cent Mintage Numbers:
1856 …………. 2,000
1857 ….. 17,450,000
1858 ….. 24,600,000
D. Slone, Copyright 2011 CoinCollectorGuide.com