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Braided Hair Cent, 1839-1857 | CoinWeek

1855 Braided Hair Cent. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1855 Braided Hair Cent. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

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

The Large Cent, which was among the first coin types struck under the authority of the Mint Act of 1792, was given a final redesign in 1839, creating what has become known as the Braided Hair type. In truth, the Braided Hair design was the culmination of modifications made over three years to transform the Matron Head Cent’s Liberty to a more contemporaneous version of the goddess figure.

Some authors identify the late 1830s transitional years as a separate type; the difficulty in defining beginning/ending dates for Large Cent types of the period is partly because these transitional cents have the hairstyle (no braids) of the original Matron Head type, but also show the modified portrait and coronet similar to the Braided Hair type. Future United States Mint Chief Engraver Christian Gobrecht made changes to Liberty in 1839 apparently for use in 1840, but some 1839-dated cents show these revisions. For this reason, most reference texts include 1839 in both the previous Matron Head and the subsequent Braided Hair types.

Gobrecht’s Braided Hair Liberty is thought to be modeled after the depiction of the Roman goddess of love Venus in British American painter Benjamin West’s painting Omnia Vincit Amor, or The Power of Love in the Three Elements (1809). The presentation of Liberty has been called a depiction of the Empire style, a Neoclassical look popular in France in the early 19th century. Though Gobrecht might have hoped this new image would minimize criticism like that directed at the Matron Head style, that hope was not completely realized. A minor complaint was of the rather generic portrayal, at once universal but also nonspecific: “everybody and nobody,” as one critic described it. The youthful “Petite” depiction was modified by Gobrecht in 1843; Liberty was more upright relative to a horizontal date orientation and arguably looked more mature.

Large Cents once saw widespread use and acceptance by Americans, but gradually the public came to dislike them due to their size and weight, as well as the fact that they weren’t even legal tender. Merchants could take them only at a discount, or refuse to accept them at all. Some businesses issued exclusive tokens that they compelled their customers to use instead.

By the early 1850s, copper prices had risen to the point that the Mint had trouble securing copper blanks, and it cost more than one cent to produce a one-cent coin. By 1856, preparations were under way to replace the Large Cent with a smaller one-cent coin – including the production of trial pieces. In 1857, both the Braided Hair Cent and the new smaller copper-nickel Flying Eagle Cent were struck, the former the last official large cent issue and the latter the first issue of the small cent that continues to the present.

How Much Are Braided Hair Large Cents Worth?

Several hundred business strike Braided Hair Large Cents have been certified, more from the 1850s forward, but many dates and varieties are represented by fewer than 25 coins in census/population reports. Coins are also classified by surface color, most as BN (Brown), a few as RB (Red-Brown), and very few as RD (Red). Prices are moderate for many dates and varieties to near-Gem (Gem for some dates), expensive to very expensive finer. Red-Brown examples are often more expensive than Brown coins, and Red coins more expensive than Red-Brown pieces, particularly those finer than MS60. No specific dates are significantly more expensive than others, though some varieties command a higher premium.

All Proof Braided Hair Cents are rare, and none are known for 1839, 1851, and 1853. Fewer than 20 examples have been certified for most dates prior to 1855, and generally fewer than 50 from 1855 to the end of the series. Proofs are also classified by color designation, and some varieties have been identified. Prices range from expensive as PR60 to very expensive finer than PR62. Red (RD) Proofs are very expensive, and Proofs of 1849 and 1852 more expensive than other dates.

CoinWeek Braided Hair Cent Date-by-Date Analysis

United States 1857 Braided Hair Half Cent

Design

Obverse:

A left-facing, neoclassical Liberty is in the center of the obverse. Curled and flowing hair is swept back to a bun tied by beaded cords, with locks draped around the ear and down the back of the neck. A coronet worn above the ear and forehead displays the word LIBERTY, with the hair above the forehead in a rope-like braid rather than loosely swept to the side as in the previous style. Thirteen six-pointed stars and the date at the bottom form a circle inside denticles located next to the flat rim.

Reverse:

The reverse displays the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA as a mostly complete circle concentric with the dentils and flat rim. Inside of that is another circle formed by a laurel branch with berries, ends tied by a ribbon at the bottom. The wreath is sometimes called a “Christmas wreath.” In the center is the denomination written as ONE CENT, each word on a separate line. All Braided Hair Cents were struck at Philadelphia and display no mintmark.

Varieties

Many varieties are known, including the 1840 Large Date and Small Date, and Small Date Over Large 18; the 1842 Small Date and Large Date; the 1843 Petite, Large Letters and Small Letters; the 1844 44 Over 81; the 1846 Small Date, Medium Date, and Tall Date; the 1851 51 Over 81; the 1855 Upright 5s and Slanting 5s; the 1856 Upright 5s and Slanting 5s; the 1857 Large Date and Small Date; and other, more minor die variations.

Coin Specifications

Braided Hair Cent
Years of Issue: 1839-57
Mintage (Circulation): High: 9,889,707 (1851); Low: 333,546 (1857)
Mintage (Proof): High: 200 (1857, estimated); Low: 20-30 pieces (most dates before 1855, estimated)
Alloy: 100% copper
Weight: 10.89 g
Diameter: 27.50 mm
Edge: Plain
OBV Designer: Robert Scot after John Reich, with modifications by William Kneass and Christian Gobrecht
REV Designer: Robert Scot after John Reich, with modifications by William Kneass and Christian Gobrecht

 

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References

Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.

Newcomb, Howard R., and Denis Loring (editor). United States Copper Cents, 1816-1857. Quarterman Publications.

Guth, Ron and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Yeoman, R.S. and Jeff Garrett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.

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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. I HAVE AN 1850 L.G. C (UNC. DETAILS, POROUS) HAT I SUSPECT IS AN N-20

    ALL THE MARKERS ARE THERE; DATE IN CORRECT ATTRIBUTABLE POSITION, BUT I CANNOT FIND A ‘LIKE EXAMPLE’ OF IT FOR COMPARISON.

    FORMER EAC; 45+ YEARS EXPERIENCE; LATE DATE COPPER AND ERROR FIELD

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