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1865 Two-Cent Piece : A Collector’s Guide

1865 Two-Cent Piece. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1865 Two-Cent Piece. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

First struck in 1864 in an attempt to solve the nationwide coin shortage, caused by the onset of the U.S. Civil War, the Two-Cent Piece never truly caught on and suffered from a consistently shrinking mintage. As only the second issuance, the 1865 type still had a significant mintage of 13,640,000 specimens (for comparison’s sake, the United States Mint would strike only 3,177,000 coins in 1866, a further 77% decrease). As such, the 1865 is the second-most-common date after the 1864 Large Motto type. The years of high mintages ended with the conclusion of pitched battle and the slow release of hoarded coins, a process that gradually negated the need for this odd denomination.

In God We Trust Is Adopted on Other Coins

The major innovation resulting from this denomination was the use of the motto “In God We Trust”. So popular was this new addition that Congress passed legislation on March 3, 1865, to mandate its placement on all coins large enough to contain it. Implemented in 1866, this included all gold coins as well as the silver dollar, half-dollar coin, and quarter, as well as the three-cent nickel. Later, in the Coinage Act of February 12, 1873, Congress ordered the motto be “inscribed on such coins as shall admit” it.

1865 Two-Cent Piece Varieties Worth Collecting

Adding interest to this date for type collectors is a large number of die-punch varieties, the two most famous of which are the Plain 5 and the Fancy 5. The Plain 5 displays a normal crossbar on the five in 1865, while the Fancy 5 has a distinctly curved or flipped arm. While PCGS did not denote this until recently, they have now begun offering the designation. Since then, the combined population of PCGS and NGC Fancy 5 1865 Two-Cent Pieces totals only 427 pieces, of which 44 total are designated as Red (RD)–the rest being either Brown (B) or Red Brown (RB). Interestingly, NGC only records one Fancy 5 1865 RD example, graded MS66.

How Much Is the 1865 Two-Cent Piece Worth?

Like all copper coins, the 1865 Two-Cent Piece’s value is heavily dependent on grade and (if in Mint State) color. As a result, if a collector is not particular about having an RD-designated coin, then it’s relatively easy to find a BN or an RB example in up to low Mint State. In lower circulated grades, the 1865 Two-Cent piece is worth about $15 to $20. This price increases from $50 to $85 in high circulated grades.

Coins certified by CAC, NGC, and PCGS will sell for a premium. An October 2023 listing on eBay for a PCGS-graded 1865 Two-Cent piece graded AU55 sold for $131. In November 2023, an NGC AU53 BN sold for $120.

Fully Red examples are relatively easily available in grades up to MS65. However, the total combined population of all RD examples in MS66, graded by both NGC and PCGS, consists of only 72 coins. From this total, CAC has approved 25 coins. To date, CAC has not yet encapsulated coins in the company’s own holder at this grade. Meanwhile, only three MS67s are reported at NGC and PCGS in both the Plain 5 and Fancy 5 varieties, making it a true condition rarity.

1865 Two-Cent Piece Date Styles. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.
1865 Two-Cent Piece Date Styles. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.

Collectors should be aware that while the Fancy 5 variety is slightly more scarce than the Plain 5, it does not hold a significant premium. One MS67 Fancy 5 example, sold by Heritage Auctions on January 9, 2014, hammered for $25,850. Despite being one of the first pieces to earn the Fancy 5 designation from PCGS, this coin proved to be an outlier. It displays the soft orange of a true red copper coin and is simply dripping with luster. Similarly, nice examples graded MS66+ earned less than half of the astronomical auction record. Instead, an MS66+ RD Fancy 5 with an extremely sharp strike and smooth satin copper luster hammered for $10,200 in 2020. A coin with the same grade was sold in 2021 for $8,225; this coin, however, has a significant reverse die crack and die cud.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Top Population: PCGS MS67RD (1, 5/2024). NGC MS67RD (7, 3/2024). CAC MS66RD (25:0 stickered:graded, 5/2024).

Fancy 5 Date Style

  • NGC MS67RD #3609353-001: Heritage Auctions, June 4, 2015, Lot 3793 – $14,100. Fancy 5. Die crack from 3 o’clock to the tip of the scroll. Die break at ST of TRUST. Carbon spot on wreath below R.
  • PCGS MS67RD #26825254: As PCGS MS67RD. Heritage Auctions, January 13, 2005, Lot 5541 – $20,125. Rattler. As PCGS MS67RD #26825254. “The Wineguy Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 9, 2014, Lot 5149 – $25,850. Fancy 5. Two tiny flecks of carbon on the left side of the shield’s chief. Two carbon spots on the reverse that book-end the left side of the wreath.
  • PCGS MS66+RD CAC #46409808: As PCGS MS66+RD CAC #40275441. “The Bob R. Simpson Collection, Part II,” Heritage Auctions, November 19, 2020, Lot 3010 – $10,200. Simpson novelty insert. As PCGS MS66+RD CAC #46409808. Stack’s Bowers, June 14, 2023, Lot 3023 – $6,000. Fancy 5. Simpson’s pedigree was removed. Carbon spot above R of TRUST. Light streaks cross the reverse.
  • PCGS MS66+RD CAC #39485885: Stack’s Bowers, November 13, 2020, Lot 9086 – $8,400. Fancy 5. Carbon spot on the first column on the shield. Diagonal tick to the right of 2.
  • PCGS MS66+RD CAC #38144687: Heritage Auctions, January 8, 2020, Lot 3270 – $13,200. Fancy 5. Dark spot under 8.
  • PCGS MS66+RD CAC #34730367: Heritage Auctions, July 12, 2018, Lot 3031 – $11,400. Only PCGS MS66+RD when offered. Fancy 5. There is a large carbon spot on the first column of the shield. Die crack from 7 o’clock rim to 1. On the reverse, die crack from 7:30 to the tip of the wreath, another near 9 o’clock to me, and yet another from second A of AMERICA to the rim. It’s likely other light cracks are present. There are carbon spots on bulb of 2 and at the tip of the left arm of the wreath. 

Plain 5 Date Style

  • PCGS MS66+RD CAC #82625543: Heritage Auctions, February 16, 2017, Lot 3646 – $14,100. Plain 5. Scratch from the rim at 3 o’clock through leaves. Light carbon specks throughout.
  • PCGS MS66+RD #81338587: Heritage Auctions, September 7, 2016, Lot 3620 – $11,162.50. Plain 5. Carbon spot on the chief of the shield and at and above TS of CENTS.
  • PCGS MS66RD #10000063: Heritage Auctions, April 27, 2016, Lot 3111 – $15,275. Plain 5. Carbon spot above WE. On the reverse, the field is toning darker than the protected areas.

Design

Obverse:

As one of the few American coin series not to feature a bust on the obverse, Mint Chief Engraver James B. Longacre decided to use his interpretation of the Great Seal of the United States as the main device. By focusing on the defensive shield with six vertical and 20 horizontal bars, the shield strikes a markedly different tone. The shield stands in front of a pair of crossed arrows, which, while 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 1865 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 ornate wheat wreath, the arms of which 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 mintmark.

Edge:

The edge of the 1865 Two-Cent Piece is smooth or plain, without reeding or lettering.

Designer

James Barton Longacre (1794-1869) was one of the most famous U.S. medallic artists of the 19th century. Longacre was 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 Coronet Head $20 Double Eagle gold coin.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1865
Denomination: Two Cents (USD)
Mintmark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: 13,640,000
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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Sources

https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CRPT-112hrpt47/html/CRPT-112hrpt47.htm

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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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1 COMMENT

  1. A two-cent coin is “odd” only in the context of American coinage, which initially avoided any 2-unit denominations. That decision was dictated in large part by the need for compatibility with co-circulating Spanish pieces that were divided into eighths instead of tenths. We thus ended up with quasi-hybrid denominations such as 25¢ instead of 20¢ and $2.50 instead of $2.

    Many other nations without the constraints of backward compatibility follow a more-efficient 1-2-5 pattern, and thus make wide use of 2-unit coins and bills.

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