News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #283
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds….
[Originally published on June 24, 2015. —CW]
Like Three Cent nickels, Two Cent Pieces tend to be interesting topics for conversations, even among non-collectors. Many people are astonished or curious to learn that the denominations ever existed. Two weeks ago, I covered Three Cent nickels, which were minted from 1865 to 1889. Two Cent Pieces emerged earlier, in 1864, and were terminated earlier, in 1873.
Certainly, Two Cent Pieces can be effectively collected for less than $500 per coin. It would be difficult to complete a set of business strikes, however, for less than $250 per coin. Even so, representatives of most issues are not expensive.
In Good-04 grade, the following business strikes could be purchased for less than $25 each, much of a set: 1864 (Regular or “Large” Motto), 1865, 1866, 1867, 1868, 1869 and 1870. In September 2012, the coin firm called “Great Collections” sold a PCGS graded Good-04 1871 for $26.
The “Small Motto” 1864 and the 1872 each cost far more than $25 in Good-04 grade. With a $500 per coin maximum, a collector could consider multiple strategies for assembling a set of Two Cent Pieces and would have far more flexibility in regard to grades than a collector would with a limit of $25 or $250 per coin. Even with a $500 per coin limit, however, finding a pleasing 1872 might not be easy.
While no one approach is appropriate for all buyers of classic U.S. coins, this series is intended to be practical, logical and meaningful to a wide audience, given the demands of collectors who are interested in U.S. coins dating from 1793 to 1934. Moreover, I mention classic U.S. coins that cost much less than $500 in many of the parts of this series and in other contexts. Realistically, though, it is hard to come close to completing sets of many series of classic U.S. copper, nickel or silver coins without spending as much as $500 for a coin.
Collectors who cannot afford or are unwilling to spend $500 may wish to form limited type sets of classic U.S. coins or to collect modern coins, which were struck after 1934. Limited type sets will be a topic in the future. The present topic is Two Cent Pieces, of which there is just one design type.
What Are Two Cent Pieces?
Although Three Cent nickels, like five cent nickels, consist of 25% nickel, and Copper-Nickel Indian cents are 12% nickel, Two Cent Pieces do not contain any nickel. I refer to coins that are specified to be 95% copper as “copper,” because there is no widely accepted definition of bronze and alloys categorized as “French Bronze” sometimes overlap some alloys classified as ‘brass.’ Even so, it is customary to refer to Two Cent Pieces, post-1864 Indian Cents, and the vast majority of pre-1983 Lincoln Cents as ‘bronze.’
In the U.S., a coin that is 95% copper with the balance tin and zinc is said to be ‘bronze’. So, whether they be termed copper or bronze, Two Cent Pieces are 95% copper and thus constitute the largest denomination of any classic U.S. coins that consists of at least 95% copper.
R. W. Julian notes that the “choice of bronze, 95 percent copper and 5 percent tin & zinc, was due to European usage. This was essentially the composition used by the French and British mints” during the 19th century.
Julian is the leading researcher and analyst of historical 19th-century documents relating to U.S. coinage. In response to my inquiries, he adds that U.S. Mint officials wished for Two Cent Pieces “to match in thickness the Civil War Tokens then circulating” as money.
The diameter of a Two Cent Piece, nine tenths of an inch, is larger than that of a Three Cent nickel, seven tenths of an inch (0.7). In comparison, five cent nickels of the era had a diameter of thirteen-sixteenths of an inch (0.8125). Later, Liberty Head nickels, which were struck from 1883 to 1912, had a slightly larger diameter, five-sixths of an inch (0.8333), which, to the best of my recollection, is the diameter of currently produced nickels.
So, a Two Cent Piece clearly has a larger diameter (0.9) than a Three Cent nickel (0.7) or a five cent nickel, 0.8125 or 0.8333 inch. Relevant half cents, which were produced until 1857, have a slightly larger diameter, 29/32 of an inch (0.906). From their beginning in 1793 to their end in 1857, large cents were specified to be more than an inch in diameter, at least 17/16 (1.0625).
Many of the collectors who like large cents, Indian cents, and early Lincoln cents also like Two Cent Pieces. Copper U.S. coins have always been very popular, though Two Cent Pieces and half cents are much less popular than the multiple types of one cent coins that were minted during the history of the U.S. Maybe Two Cent Pieces will become more popular in the future?
When I was a kid, Two Cent Pieces were more of a topic of conversation among friends, at coin clubs and at coin shows, than they are now. They also received more attention in coin-related media. Although discussions of Two Cent Pieces in the present do not generate much noise, they may in the future.
Are many members of the general public more likely to be persuaded to become interested in Two Cent Pieces than in some other coin types that are not nearly as curious? In some ways, Two Cent Pieces are well suited for promotions.
Why were Two Cent Pieces introduced? In 1864, copper-nickel Indian cents, Three Cent silvers, half dimes and dimes were all being minted. The U.S. Civil War had started in 1861. During periods of war, people often hoard gold and silver coins. In some cases, copper coins are hoarded, too. R. W. Julian has researched the details of such hoarding.
“There was an acute shortage of coined money in this country after the autumn of 1862 and it was felt that cent coinage alone would not be sufficient to overcome the shortage. There were large numbers of copper-nickel cents struck through May 1864 but they were promptly hoarded. The public was tired of the fractional [paper] currency (‘shinplasters’) and any coined money was welcome. Bronze coins, however, were not as popular in the West due to generally higher prices and the fact that silver coins did [continue to] circulate west of the Rocky Mountains.”
Business strike Two Cent Pieces date from 1864 to 1872. It is generally accepted that only Proofs, not business strikes, were minted in 1873. All U.S. Two Cent Pieces were struck in Philadelphia and do not have mintmarks.
Small and Regular Mottos
A set of business strikes need include just ten coins: 1864 ‘Small Motto,’ 1864 with a regular or ‘Large Motto,’ 1865, 1866, 1867, 1868, 1869, 1870, 1871 and 1872. The ‘Small Motto’ of 1864 is noticeably different from the ‘large’ or ‘regular’ motto that appears on the obverse (front) of the design of all other issues of Two Cent Pieces.
The 1864 ‘Small Motto‘ and the 1864 ‘Regular Motto’ have the status of two distinct dates. In effect, someone collecting ‘by date‘ would usually seek two 1864 Two Cent Pieces for his or her set. The regular motto is often called a ‘large motto,’ though it is only large in contrast to the ‘Small Motto,’ which is awkwardly small. Indeed, the regular motto is really not large. There is room within the banner for larger letters than were used. Also, the fonts for the ‘Small Motto’ and the regular motto are noticeably different.
This motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ made its first appearance on Two Cent Pieces. Since 1864, this motto has become part of the design of most U.S. coin issues. It is apparent on U.S. coins received in change in 2015.
A noted clergyman suggested a motto of this nature to the secretary of the treasury, Salmon P. Chase. R. W. Julian reports that the appearance of the word ‘God’ on a U.S. coin was not controversial at the time. In the early 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt was upset about it. More recently, this motto, as it appear on coins and paper money, has been publicly attacked by groups of atheists. I am not aware of any prominent coin collectors objecting to it.
The 1864 with the regular size motto is a type coin, one of the least scarce issues of the series, along with the 1865 and the 1866. The 1868 and the 1869 cost just slightly more.
A PCGS- or NGC-certified ‘MS-65 Brown’ 1864 ‘Regular Motto,’ 1865 or 1866 could easily be obtained for less than $500. “A collector can buy nice mint state, Civil War era Two Cent Pieces for under $500, which would be very tough to do in most denominations,” John Albanese notes.
“A CAC stickered MS-64 ‘Red & Brown,’ 1864 or 1865 is a great value,” John remarks. High grade copper coins are separated by PCGS and NGC into three categories: brown (BN), red and brown (RB), and full mint red (RD). Those that are designated ‘RB’ are thought by graders at PCGS or NGC to exhibit a mix of original mint red and natural brown color that developed later, sometimes with colorful tones.
For Two Cent Pieces, Albanese recommends the ‘red & brown’ certifications over the full red certifications. “The full red coins will turn some brown, sooner or later, a little every day,” John says. “A MS-64 Two Cent with 85% red color can usually be bought at the same levels as coins with 35% red,” Albanese emphasizes.
A PCGS-certified and CAC-approved, MS-64-RB 1864 was sold earlier this month, on June 7, by Heritage for $329. Less than a month before, on May 17, a different 1864, with the same certification and also a CAC sticker, sold for the exact same price. That one was in a relatively old PCGS holder with a faded green label. PCGS or NGC-certified MS-64-RB 1864, 1865 or 1866 Two Cent Pieces without CAC stickers have been selling at auction or over the Internet for less than $300 each.
On Feb. 10, Heritage sold a PCGS-certified and CAC-approved, MS-64-RB 1865 for $317.25. Another with the same certification and also a CAC sticker sold on June 1, 2014, for $381.88.
Business strikes are coins made by standard, regular or routine methods. It is likely that the vast majority of business strike Two Cent Pieces were struck for circulation, to be used in commerce. Proofs are produced with different methods. Proof Two Cent Pieces were distributed to collectors and were obtained by non-collectors for various reasons.
As the Proof 1864 ‘Small Motto’ is so expensive, most collectors building sets of Two Cent Pieces focus on business strikes. A Fine-15 to VF-25 grade 1864 ‘Small Motto’ could certainly be obtained for less than $500.
On August 4, 2013, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded VF-25 1864 ‘Small Motto’ for $349.55. I wonder why this price was so weak? Less than four months later, on November 24, 2013, the GreatCollections firm sold a PCGS-graded VG-08 coin, with a CAC sticker, for $352.
While 1866 and 1867 Two Cent Pieces are priced about the same as 1865 and 1864 ‘Regular Motto’ coins, the remainder of the business strikes in the series are ‘better dates’ and command premiums. Certified 1868 and 1869 Two Cent Pieces in MS-63 or MS-64 grades are not difficult to obtain.
Early in 2014, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-certified and CAC-approved, MS-63-RB 1868 for $329. In the same auction, a PCGS-certified MS-64-RB 1868, without a sticker, brought $558.13 On July 12, 2014, Heritage auctioned a NGC-certified and CAC-approved MS-64-RB 1869 for $470.
The 1870 and the 1871 tend to cost significantly more than the 1868 and the 1869. It is probably impossible to acquire a certified MS-64-RB 1870 for less than $500, in the present. These seem to have risen in value over the last five years.
On Oct. 12, 2014, Heritage sold a PCGS-certified MS-63-RB 1870 for $352.50. Earlier in 2014, at “The Americana” sale, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned one with the same certification for $440.63.
A PCGS- or NGC-certified MS-64-Brown 1870 could be obtained for less than $500, maybe for less than $375. An NGC-certified MS-64-Brown 1871 could be obtained for less than $500, too, though a PCGS-certified MS-64-Brown 1871 might cost more than $500.
On December 28, 2014, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-certified MS-63-RB 1871 for $341. It is in an old PCGS holder with a green label, which is noteworthy. When copper coins are doctored for the purpose of giving the false impression that they have much original red, doctored surfaces often continue to chemically react and may become very noticeably weird over time. It is a positive sign that this coin has been in the same holder since the mid-1990s, perhaps even before then, and probably appears natural now. I have not seen it. Curiously, Heritage sold this exact same coin, with the same PCGS serial number, on September 6, 2014, for $440.63.
Someone incurred a loss.
Earlier in 2014, GreatCollections sold a different PCGS-certified MS-63-RB 1871, in a holder that dates from some point between 2011 and 2014. This one has a CAC sticker. It brought $455.40, more than either of the two prices realized for the just mentioned coin with an old green label.
If a collector cannot find a pleasing and relatively original, certified MS-63-RB 1871 for less than $500, a MS-63 or MS-64-Brown 1871 is an alternative. A ‘brown’ 1871 with rich original luster can be found for less than $500.
The 1872 is the key business strike in the series. It is far scarcer than any of the other business strikes. With a $500 per coin limitation, a collector could definitely buy a Good-04 or -06 grade 1872, possibly a VG-10 grade coin. During December 2013, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded and CAC-approved, Good-04 1872 for $305.50.
There is little chance of acquiring a Proof 1872 for less than $500. The Proof 1864 ‘Small Motto’ is extremely rare and would probably cost at least $10,000. It would even be difficult to find a Proof 1865 or a Proof 1866, without serious problems, for less than $500. It might not make sense to pursue these.
With a $500-per-coin limit, Proof Two Cent Pieces should be collected ‘by type,’ not ‘by date,’ though much of a set can be assembled for less than $500 each. For an 1867 or an 1868, an NGC-certified Proof-64-Brown or a PCGS-certified Proof-63-Brown Two Cent Piece could easily be found for less than $500.
On March 2, 2014, Heritage auctioned an NGC-certified Proof-64-Brown 1867 for $440.63. This firm sold a PCGS-certified Proof-63-Brown 1867 Two Cent Piece for $329 on November 9, 2014.
On January 27, 2015, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-certified and CAC-approved Proof-64-Brown 1867 for $470. One without a CAC sticker brought $440.63 in February.
The Proof 1869 is a little scarcer and a little more expensive than the 1867 or the 1868. On July 12, 2014, a PCGS-certified Proof-63 1870 went for $411.25 in the auction of the Summer FUN Convention.
Although the 1871 is not one of the easier Proof Two Cent Piece issues to obtain, a PCGS- or NGC-certified Proof-63 1871 can be found for less than $500, maybe. In January 2014, Heritage sold one for $487.63.
Generally, price guides tend to understate the market values for Proof-63 to -65 Two Cent Pieces. Finding really appealing, Choice Proofs for less than $500 each may require a significant amount of time and much concentration. Some coins that are certified as grading 63 have very noticeable and annoying imperfections.
It is generally accepted that all 1873 Two Cent Pieces are Proofs or were intended to be Proofs. There are ‘Open 3’ and ‘Close 3‘ varieties, a concept that I discussed two weeks ago in the context of Three Cent nickels. The 1873 ‘Open 3’ Two Cent Piece is very rare and the ‘Close 3’ is probably rare.
In total, all 1873 Two Cent Pieces are extremely scarce. Furthermore, there seems to be substantial demand for these. There is no point in attempting to acquire a genuine 1873 Two Cent Piece for less than $500. Indeed, it is very unlikely that one could be obtained for less than $1,500.
1867 ‘Doubled Die’
The 1867 ‘Doubled Die’ is sometimes collected ‘as if’ it is a distinct date. In another words, some people who are collecting business strike Two Cent Pieces ‘by date’ seek two 1867 coins, representatives of a typical striking and of one with a ‘Doubled Die.’ This doubling is not apparent in the numerals of the date and is certainly not as significant as the 1955/1955 Lincoln Cent or the 1916/1916 ‘Doubled Die’ Buffalo Nickel.
“For a Double Die to be needed for a set, it has to be prominent. You have to be able to see it right away without using a magnifying glass. The 1967 ‘Doubled Die’ Two Cent coin is not really apparent. You have to study one with a glass to see much doubling. It should not be labeled as a Doubled Die by the grading services; it is a minor die variety. It is not necessary to have one for a set,” John Albanese concludes.
Also, there are varieties relating to the numerals of 1869 Two Cent Pieces. A magnifying glass is certainly needed to notice these, which are subtle and not easy to classify. Only one 1869 Two Cent Piece is needed for a set of Two Cent Pieces. Additional varieties are obtained by dedicated specialists who focus on die anomalies.
On the whole, a set of PCGS or NGC graded, business strike Two Cent Pieces can be completed without spending more than $500 on any single coin. It need not take a long time to build such a set. Many certified MS-63 or MS-64 grade coins can be included. It is fun and satisfying to assemble a whole set, especially of an intriguing denomination.
© 2017 Greg Reynolds
Recent Parts of My Series on Classic U.S. coins for under $500 each:
Copper-Nickel Indian Cents | Three Cent Nickels | Standing Liberty Quarters | Walking Liberty Half Dollars | Indian Head Quarter Eagles
U.S. Two cent Pieces Currently Available on eBay
The article doesn’t get into President Roosevelt’s motivations beyond a vague suggestion that the inscription IN GOD WE TRUST “upset” him, but I feel it’s important to remember that Roosevelt objected to God’s name on money out of religious conviction. You cannot worship God and Mammon both.