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 coin. 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 US economy was suffering from a serious lack of coinage. With 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 US 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 in the entire, all of which were struck by the Philadelphia Mint. Interestingly, due to a calculation error in 1886, there is some debate as to the actual number of coins minted in 1864. Author and numismatist R.W. Julian argues that the number of 19,847,500 is actually 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. 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 that there is 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, there were significant quality control issues at the Philadelphia facility. 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 in Today’s Market
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 USD. The most recent auction record was $4,700 for a fully lustrous MS66 BN. Pieces designated Red Brown and Red command a significant premium. A 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 grade. Even in low Mint State (MS60-64), Large Motto types with a Brown designation regularly 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.
As one of the few American coin series not to feature a bust on the obverse, 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 they are definitely 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.
Centered on the reverse is an ornated wheat wreath whose arms encircle the denomination 2 CENTS, which is 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.
The edge of the 1864 Two Cent piece is smooth or plain.
James Barton Longacre (1794-1869) was one of the most famous US engraver 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.
|Year Of Issue:||1864|
|Mint Mark:||None (Philadelphia)|
|Mintage:||19,822,500 or 19,847,500 (disputed)|
|Alloy:||95% Copper, 5% Tin and Zinc|
|OBV Designer||James Barton Longacre|
|REV Designer||James Barton Longacre|