HomeUS Coins1864 Two-Cent Piece – A Collector’s Guide | CoinWeek

1864 Two-Cent Piece – A Collector’s Guide | CoinWeek

1864 Two-Cent Piece. Small Date. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1864 Two-Cent Piece. Small Date. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

With the passage of the Coinage Act of 1864, the United States Congress authorized the design and production of a brand-new denomination, the short-lived two-cent piece. As part of the government’s experimentation with odd denominations (including the three-cent nickel, the silver trime, the 20-cent piece, and the four-dollar stella gold coin), the two-cent piece never really gained traction with the public. The unpopular series ran for only nine years, from 1864 until 1873. The first coins were struck on April 22, 1864.

Due to the widespread hoarding of gold and silver coins during the Civil War, the U.S. economy suffered from a serious lack of coinage. With the production of the 1864 series beginning towards the end of the war, the government was hoping to address the coin shortage and reduce the number of private tokens and fractional paper bills in circulation.

The 1864 two-cent coin, as the first of the series, also marked the beginning of the well-known U.S. currency motto “In God We Trust.” Religious sentiment at the time was high and Mint Director James Pollock was charged by Congress to add a motto referencing God to US coinage. While Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase suggested examples such as “Our Country: Our God” and “God, Our Trust.” Pollock countered with “In God We Trust”. Two patterns for the two-cent piece were struck in 1863 bearing the mottos “God Our Trust” and “In God We Trust,” respectively. It is thought that Pollock found inspiration in The Star-Spangled Banner.

As the first year of production, the mintage for the 1864 Two-Cent coin was the highest, all struck by the Philadelphia Mint. Interestingly, due to a calculation error in 1886, there is some debate about the number of coins minted in 1864. Author and numismatist R.W. Julian argues that the number of 19,847,500 is too large by 25,000 pieces and that the accurate mintage number is 19,822,500. The current Red Book lists the smaller number supported by Julian.

When production started, the United States Mint was still using a prototype die that had a slightly smaller and narrower obverse motto. Numismatist Walter Breen called the Small Motto issues prototypes. At least a few thousand were produced from the prototype dies, along with a small number of Proofs before Mint Chief Engraver James Barton Longacre modified the design so that the motto was more upright on the ribbon.

Small Motto and Large Motto 1864 Two-Cent Pieces. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.
Small Motto and Large Motto 1864 Two-Cent Pieces. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

While the motto size difference is not easy to distinguish since it is in a high-wear area, the “D” in “God” is markedly smaller on the Small Motto variety, and the first “T” in “trust” is closer to the ribbon’s fold than on the Large Motto. Additionally, on Small Motto types, the laurel wreath stem under the word “God” is visible, whereas on the Large Motto type, it is hidden.

While there is no estimate of how many Small Motto two-cent pieces were struck, PCGS estimates a total survival rate of 10,000, with only 30 in MS 65 or better. As a result, the Small Motto variety is sometimes considered a circulating pattern. In a recurring pattern for the early US Mint, the Philadelphia facility had significant quality control issues. As a result, there are an above-average number of two-cent pieces with die cracks, doubled dies, and repunched dates.

The 1864 Two Cent Coin’s Value Today

Small Motto examples in low grades (G4 – VF30) are easily obtainable for between $200 to $500, and high-grade Mint State Brown examples are rarely found for less than $1,000 to $2,000. The most recent auction record was $4,700 for a fully lustrous MS66 BN. Pieces designated Red Brown and Red command a significant premium. An MS66 Red claimed $63,000 in January 2018 at the Heritage FUN sale, the highest auction price of any two-cent piece.

The more common Large Motto variety can be found at any dealer or show for between $20 to $50 in low to medium-low grades. Even in low Mint State (MS60-64), Large Motto types with a Brown designation sell for $175 to $400. Large Motto MS 67 Brown types have sold for $7,200 to $7,300; Red pieces of corresponding grade hammered for $19,975 in 2015 and $11,400 in 2020.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

1864 Two-Cent Piece Small Motto, FS-401

1864 Two-Cent Piece, Small Motto. Image: Stack’s Bowers.
1864 Two-Cent Piece, Small Motto. Image: Stack’s Bowers.

Top Population: PCGS MS66RD (8, 3/2024). NGC MS66RD (7, 3/2024). CAC MS66RD (1:0; Stickered:Graded, 3/2024).

  • PCGS MS66RD #45488473: Heritage Auctions, August 24, 2022, Lot 3884 – $28,800.
  • PCGS MS66RD #40322941: Heritage Auctions, September 17, 2020, Lot 10014 – $38,400; “The Westwood Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 14, 2022, Lot 4580 – $26,400. Simpson novelty insert.
  • NGC MS66RD #1936134-002: Heritage Auctions, July 31, 2008, Lot 1562 – $13,800; Heritage Auctions, August 4, 2020, Lot 3911 – $19,200.
  • PCGS MS66RD CAC #4704746: “The Red Headed Copper Collection,” Heritage Auctions, August 16, 2018, Lot 5071 – $78,000.
  • PCGS MS66RD #34241513: Heritage Auctions, January 4, 2018, Lot 4771 – $63,000.
  • NGC MS66RD #3582306-001: Heritage Auctions, August 9, 2013, Lot 5524 – $22,325; “The Eugene H. Gardner Collection, Part I,” Heritage Auctions, June 2014, Lot 30101; “The Phyllis Norman Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 14, 2022, Lot 4579 – $19,800; Heritage Auctions, June 23, 2014, Lot 30101 – $19,975.
  • PCGS MS66RD #5295377: Heritage Auctions, January 10, 2008, Lot 2719 – $32,200.
  • PCGS MS65RD CAC #7270322: Heritage Auctions, August 12, 2015, Lot 3949 – $23,500; January 14, 2022, Lot 4578 – $19,800. Rattler.
  • PCGS MS65RD CAC #41857599: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, May 27, 2021, Lot 195 – $12,925.
  • PCGS MS65RD CAC #39427857: “The Maurice Storck Collection,” Heritage Auctions, October 14, 2020, Lot 18059 – $16,800.
  • PCGS MS65RD #5037975: Heritage Auctions, December 17, 2017, Lot 3026 – $10,200. Rattler.
  • PCGS MS65RD #7270322: “The Highland Collection,” Stack’s Bowers, February 2015, Lot 1241 – $29,375.

 

  • PCGS MS65RD $1555049: Thomas L. Elder, February 8-10, 1923; “The Garrett Collection, Part I”, November 1979, Lot 220; Hancock & Harwell; unknown intermediaries; Phillip Smith; Heritage Auctions, January 8, 2009, Lot 3624 – $12,650; Heritage Auctions, April 19, 2012, Lot 5041 – $11,500; Stack’s Bowers, August 7, 2012, Lot 11246 – $11,750; Stacks’ Bowers, August 2014, Lot 13046 – $12,337.50. Legacy Holder. The Garrett Collection Lot 220 Phillip Smith on insert. The coin was featured on Cool Coins! Episode #10 (2012), where dealer James R. “Jim” McGuigan showed it. McGuigan estimated the value to be $14,000 – $15,000.
  • PCGS MS65RD CAC #25536321: Heritage Auctions, April 19, 2012, Lot 5042 – $14,950; Heritage Auctions, January 9, 2014, Lot 5148 – $17,625.
  • NGC MS65RD #2037600-001: “The Eric P. Newman Education Society Collection,” Heritage Auctions, November 15, 2013, Lot 33001 – $13,512.50. Newman novelty insert. There is a small carbon spot on the shield above the second stripe. Discoloration on the right side of the wreath to the left of M.
  • NGC MS65RD #221940-010: Heritage Auctions, April 24, 2013, Lot 1335 – $15,862.50.
  • PCGS MS65RD CAC #9014786: “The John H. Twist Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 6, 2011, Lot 5449 – $16,100.
  • PCGS MS65RD #3297483: Heritage Auctions, December 4, 2008, Lot 514 – $16,100.
  • PCGS MS65RD CAC #9014786: Heritage Auctions, October 23, 2008, Lot 256 – $21,850.

1864 Two-Cent Piece Large Motto

1864 Two-Cent Piece, Large Motto. Image: Stack’s Bowers.
1864 Two-Cent Piece, Large Motto. Image: Stack’s Bowers.

Coin dealers Abner Kreisberg and Jerry Cohen offered an example they described as “full mint red. Superb” for $295 in their February 1978 ad in The Numismatist.

Exceptionally rare with Cameo frost.

Top Population: PCGS MS67RD (4, 3/2024). NGC MS67RD (3, 3/2024). CAC MS66RD (23:1 stickered:graded, 3/2024).

  • NGC MS67RD #4768561-002: Heritage Auctions, June 4, 2020, Lot 3015 – $11,400.
  • PCGS MS67RD #32212465: “The College Collection, Part Two,” Heritage Auctions, August 12, 2015, Lot 3950 – $19,975.
  • PCGS MS66RD #21174876: Heritage Auctions, June 20, 2021, Lot 7067 – $10,200.

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The 1864 Two Cent Coin’s Design

Obverse:

As one of the few American coin series not to feature a bust on the obverse, Longacre decided to use his interpretation of the Great Seal of the United States as the main device. The shield strikes a markedly different tone by focusing on the defensive shield with six vertical and 20 horizontal bars. The shield stands in front of a pair of crossed arrows, which, while they are martial in nature, actually represent alliance and friendship for many native American cultures. Behind the arrows is the traditional symbol of victory, a laurel leaf. The date 1864 is placed in the empty field below the shield. Lastly, surmounting the entire design is a flowing banner with the motto “In God We Trust”. Taken cumulatively, the obverse is a visual display of the Federal government’s drive to maintain the Union as the Civil War raged.

Reverse:

Centered on the reverse is an ornated wheat wreath whose arms encircle the denomination 2 CENTS, written in two rows. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA wraps around the reverse, covering more than three-quarters of the empty fields outside of the wheat wreath. Lastly, since the Philadelphia Mint was responsible for striking all two-cent pieces, the design does not include a mint mark.

Edge:

The edge of the 1864 Two Cent piece is plain or smooth, without reeding or edge lettering.

Designer

James Barton Longacre (1794-1869) was one of the most famous U.S. engravers and medallic artists of the 19th century. Appointed the fourth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint by President John Tyler after Christian Gobrecht died in 1844. Before his appointment, Longacre worked for the Philadelphia engraving company Murray, Draper, Fairman & Co. until he began working for himself in 1819. As an independent engraver, Longacre produced a series of famous plates that featured the Founding Fathers, President Andrew Jackson, and Senator John C. Calhoun. Once he became Chief Engraver at the Mint, he produced such famous pieces as the Flying Eagle cent, the Indian Head cent, the Shield nickel, and the $20 Coronet Head double eagle gold coin.

1864 Two Cent Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1864
Denomination: Two Cents (USD)
Mint Mark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: 19,822,500 or 19,847,500 (disputed)
Alloy: 95% Copper, 5% Tin and Zinc
Weight: 6.22 g
Diameter: 23.00 mm
Edge: Plain
OBV Designer: James Barton Longacre
REV Designer:  James Barton Longacre
Quality:  Business Strike

 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. It’s a shame “two-something” denominations didn’t catch on. Both 2¢ and $2 fit nicely into a decimal coinage system and would significantly reduce the need for base-unit coins and bills.

    And as for non-decimal quarters versus decimal 20¢ coins, well, we still have to be compatible with any pieces of eight that might show up in change … don’t we?
    /snark

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