United States 1864 Large Motto Two Cent Piece

In 1864 when the Two Cent coin was first issued, the US Civil War was still raging. One effect of the war was a massive shortage of hard currency. While specie coins had disappeared from circulation quite early in the war, by ’64 even small copper cents were thin on the ground as evidenced by the proliferation of alternative currencies and private tokens. Since the Two Cent piece was struck in bronze, instead of the more expensive cupro-nickel used prior to the war in one-cent coins, the United States Mint was moving farther and farther toward a fiduciary coinage system.

While this denomination was partially created to offset the shortage of one-cent coins, and almost 20 million pieces were struck during the first issuance (nearly 44% of the entire series from 1864 to 1873), the idea of a two-cent coin was not a new one. In fact, legislation for the first Two Cent piece was put up for a vote by Senator Uriah Tracy of Connecticut in 1806. The coin would have consisted of a 90% copper and 10% silver billon alloy and would have been paired with a 20-cent piece of the same alloy. Despite its passage in the Senate, the bill was voted down in the House of Representatives that year and again in 1807. Another unsuccessful attempt to institute the two-cent denomination was made in 1836, with similar results.

Being the first year of an unpopular type, the issuance of 1864 was the largest of the entire series by over six million pieces. Stemming from a small error when calculating the mintage figures in 1886, there is some controversy over the exact number of coins produced. While official Mint records state that 19,847,500 pieces were struck, numismatists and researchers posit that this number is too large by 25,000. This adjusted figure has now become mainstream and is even included by the Red Book as official.

The 1864 Two Cent piece represents the first appearance of the national motto “In God We Trust” on America’s coinage. This was possible due to the Mint Act of Congress on January 18, 1837, which allowed the mint director to choose the devices and mottoes on coins (with the approval of the Treasury Department). This approval process led to a series of negotiations that included such mottoes as “Our Country; Our God and God Our Trust”. Finally, with a last-minute suggestion by Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, “In God We Trust” was finally approved for production.

The 1864 Large Motto Two Cent in Today’s Market

Like all copper coins, the 1864 Large Motto Two Cent piece can receive one of three color designations: Red, Red Brown, and Brown. The difference between these color designations is due to the changing surface color of the coin’s metal. Red designated coins of this age are rare and exceptionally desirable, especially since copper oxidizes naturally and it is quite rare that a coin would survive over 150 years of exposure to the air with little to no color shift. As such, Red-designated coins must by default also be in AU 50 or above.

While NGC and PCGS collectively grade 1,036 examples as Red (RD), of which roughly 3/4th are by PCGS and 1/4th by NGC, only seven pieces received the top population grade of MS 67. One of these pieces set the auction record of $19,975 in Heritage Auctions’ August 2015 sale. More recently, this grade is worth roughly $12,000 USD.

In just one grade below (MS 66), the population increases from seven to 60 pieces, and the value decreases to between $2,000 and $3,500.

After another step down the value is halved, with most graded and certified MS 65 examples worth $800 to $1,500. However, some pieces do sell for as much as $2,300. While there are few auction records for low Mint State specimens, the price has remained exceedingly stable with MS 60 examples selling for $300 to $350. In fact, Bowers and Ruddy sold an MS 60 example for $350 in 1979!

Red Brown (RB) examples, which exhibit up to 95% of their original red coloration, are similarly rare in high grades. The auction record for these coins was set 14 years ago in Heritage Auctions’ July 2008 sale at $4,888. Interestingly, this is almost half the record for Brown pieces which was set at $8,050 by an AU 58 in a Heritage Auctions January 2007 sale.

In MS 65 and 66, RB examples sell for $500 to $1,500, with some pieces selling for as much as $3,600. This is up to a three times premium over standard Brown graded examples that sell for $350 to $500. According to recent sales, in lower Mint State grades (MS 60 to MS 63), RB pieces still command a $50 to $100 premium over Brown examples in the same grades. These RB pieces sell for $200 to $350 while the Brown examples are usually worth between $150 and $250.

If a collector doesn’t care about the grade and simply wants to acquire the cheapest example possible, extremely low-grade Brown examples (F2 to G6) can usually be purchased for between $10 and $30.

Design

Obverse:

As one of the few American coin series not to feature a bust on the obverse, US Mint Chief Engraver James B. Longacre decided to use his own 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 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, the arms of which encircle the denomination 2 CENTS written in two rows. The country name 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 1864 Two Cent piece is smooth or plain.

Designer

James Barton Longacre (1794-1869) was one of the most famous US engraver and 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 $20 Coronet Head double eagle gold coin.

Coin Specifications

Country:  USA
Year Of Issue:  1864
Denomination:  Two Cents
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:  Smooth
OBV Designer  James Barton Longacre
REV Designer James Barton Longacre
Quality:  Business Strike

 

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