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U.S. Coin Patterns for Less than $5,000 Each, Pt. 1: Donut Cents,1¢ Nickels and Flying Eagles


News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #338

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds …..
Though not coins, patterns are similar to coins, directly related to coins and often collected along with coins. Some coin patterns even circulated in commerce. The present topic is one-cent coin patterns from the 19th century that may be obtained for less than $5,000 each

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Almost all U.S. coin patterns are rare. There are hundreds of coin patterns that are not nearly as expensive as the most famous patterns, like the Schoolgirl Dollar and those in the Shield Earring series.

“Starting with 1850 pieces, most one-cent patterns are available for under $5,000. The exceptions are: some esoteric alloys, the 1856 Flying Eagles as a group, rare 1858 mules, the 1863L and 1864L Indians, the 1868 large cent and some aluminum die trials. Beyond those, a nice pattern cent type set including examples for the years 1850–51, 1853–55, 1857–59, 1868–69, 1881, 1884, 1885 and 1896 can be done under this pricing criterion,” asserts Saul Teichman, a collector and a leading researcher on coin patterns.

Patterns, narrowly defined, are coin concepts that were proposed or at least considered, or are prototypes of regular coin issues.

Broadly defined, patterns include many additional items, including die trials, experimental pieces, and oddities that were made for unknown reasons.

Patterns are identified in accordance with a numbering system that has been repeatedly published by Whitman in 10 editions of the Judd book. In last week’s article, there were mentions of the Judd book and the earlier book on patterns by Adams & Woodin, in a different context. Rarity scales were then discussed.

For patterns, a different identification and numbering system was introduced in a book by Andrew Pollock that was published by Bowers & Merena in 1994. Very few people, however, remember specific Judd or Pollock numbers. It would make sense for the various design types of patterns to be identified with names (and explicit descriptions in some cases), along with a few numbers to identify sub-varieties. A new system might be beneficial, with identifiers that many collectors can remember without referring to a book.

As there is no consensus among experts as to which patterns are Proofs, non-Proof Specimens or business strikes, it is better to refer to numerical grades only, rather than to Proof, SP, ‘MS’ or ‘AU’ designations, which can often be misleading. A pattern that is certified as a Proof might later be certified as a business strike, and vice versa. Furthermore, a pattern that PCGS designates as a business strike could very well be designated as a Proof at NGC. Although many patterns are clearly Proofs, such designations in regard to patterns can be confusing.

Only those who have collected patterns for many years should concern themselves with striking status. To most collectors of patterns, whether a piece is or is not a Proof isn’t import.


The earliest one-cent patterns that are not very expensive are dated 1850. An idea was to produce one-cent coins of an alloy comprised of 10% silver and 90% copper, which falls into the category of billon. They would thus have precious metal content. Since producing counterfeits with little to no silver that were nevertheless similar in color to the genuine pieces would have undoubtedly have occurred, the 10% silver idea was abandoned.

The two primary design types of 1850 pattern cents feature a hole in the middle–these are donut patterns, in my view. An NGC-graded “63” 1850 billon donut was auctioned by Heritage in October 2014 for US$1,645.

Another NGC-graded 63 donut, 1850 cent in billon sold for $1,821.25 in 2013. In June 2011, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded 63 pattern of the same type for $2,070.

1850donutFor pieces with silver or gold content, a donut design allows for a larger diameter, without an increase in precious metal content or a decrease in fineness. In another words, by incorporating a donut hole in the design, a coin with an already specified silver or gold content could have a greater diameter than it could have without a donut style hole.

“One Tenth Silver” cent patterns of almost the same design, though without a hole, were struck as well. In January 2013, a PCGS-graded 64, “One Tenth Silver” 1850 cent pattern, without a hole, sold for $2,820. Presumably, it is 10% silver, as the legend indicates, though 19th-century patterns were often struck in a variety of alloys for testing or experimental purposes.

There are undated one-cent patterns of a similar design, including donut and blank center varieties, that are believed to have been struck in 1851. The precious metal ratio, “One Tenth Silver,” is again stated explicitly as part of the design.

In June 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned one of these undated (1851) billon donuts. It was PCGC-graded 64 and realized $3,290. In August 2012, this same firm auctioned another undated donut, PCGS-graded 65 and CAC-approved, for $2,530.

In 1884 and 1885, similar donut one-cent patterns were produced, though there is no mention of silver in the design. In 1884, these were struck in nickel, in aluminum, and in a currently undocumented ‘white’ alloy.

In 1885, such donut cent patterns were struck in silver, according to the Judd reference by Whitman. If so, as each such donut would have contained far more than one cent worth of silver, these could have been fantasies for collectors or ideas for dimes with a similar design that had not yet been developed.

In April 2015, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-graded 67 and CAC-approved 1884 donut cent in a nickel alloy for $3,760. In June 2011, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded 65 piece of the same variety for $3,162.50. In January 2015, Heritage sold a NGC-graded 65 1885 donut cent, which is said in the Judd book to be silver, for $3,525.

Many donut patterns can be purchased for under $5,000 each.

Nickel Cent with Quarter Eagle Obverse

Contrary to popular belief, U.S. five-cent nickels and Three Cent Nickels are just 25% nickel in content, with the balance being copper. Before the middle of 1864, regular Flying Eagle and Indian cents consisted of a 12% nickel, 88% copper alloy.


In 1853, whitish one-cent coin patterns were made. They featured an obverse design of then-contemporary quarter eagles ($2.50 gold coins) and a reverse design with the words ‘one cent’ surrounded by a wreath. These were struck in at least three different alloys, all of which are probably at least 30% nickel and at least 40% copper in composition.

In November 2014, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned one of these 1853 one-cent patterns. It was PCGS-graded as “55“ and was in an old PCGS holder with a green label. It was part of the landmark “1853 Collection”, and brought $763.75.

A really cool pattern for a modest price.

Liberty Seated Pennies?

There are very memorable, poorly made one-cent patterns that appear at a glance to be dated ‘1851,’ though are widely held to be dated “1854.” Presumably, parts of the ‘numeral 4’ are faint or were missing in the production process. The design of the obverse stems from that of Liberty Seated silver dollars, Saul Teichman reports.

In essence, these are Liberty Seated ‘cents.’ The relatively high nickel content of the alloy results in a whitish color – even more whitish than regular issue Flying Eagle cents (which are just 12% nickel).

Liberty Seated one-cent coin patterns are probably all at least 20% nickel in composition. As already mentioned, regular issue five-cent nickels are of an alloy that is 25% nickel and 75% copper.

In August 2015, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded 64 and CAC-approved Liberty Seated cent pattern for $4,700. In April 2012, Heritage auctioned a worn piece, which is NGC-graded as “45,” for $1,175.

Also in 1854, there were large cent patterns that appear like regular large cents yet have no stars on the obverse. One of these would be a terrific addition to set of a large cents.

In August 2011, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded ‘55’ starless large cent for $1,092.50. In January of this year, Heritage auctioned a NGC-graded ‘66’ 1854 starless large cent, with a CAC sticker, for $3,542.50.

1854-55 Flying Eagle Cents

Although there has been considerable debate regarding the status of 1856 Flying Eagle cents, there is no doubt that 1854 and 1855 Flying Eagle “cents” are patterns. Furthermore, 1854 and 1855 Flying Eagle cent patterns tend to vary in size, alloy and weight. All of the 1854 and 1855 pieces that I now recollect are noticeably larger than the Flying Eagle patterns and cents that are dated from 1856 to 1858. Collectors sometimes add 1854 and 1855 patterns to sets of regular-issue cents.

1855flyingeaglepatternIn June 2010, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-64-Brown’ 1854 Flying Eagle piece for $3,450. This piece is probably 100% copper or nearly so.

Other 1854 Flying Eagle cents are 95% copper. The piece that Stack’s-Bowers auctioned in November 2011 was said to be “95% copper, 4% tin and 1% zinc” (a bronze). This 1854 Flying Eagle was NGC-graded as 62 and sold for $2,875.

There are also 1855 Flying Eagle patterns known in pure copper and in “bronze”. Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a bronze, NGC-graded 64 1855 for $2,070 in August 2011 and the same exact piece for $1,955 in March 2012. In October 2014, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded 62, 1855 Flying Eagle cent pattern for $1,703.75.

“Small” Flying Eagle Design

The “Small Flying Eagle” is the most curious of all the designs employed in 1858.

Regardless of whether standard 1856 Flying Eagle cents are patterns or true coins, it is unlikely that a decent piece could be acquired for less than $5,000. For a lower price, however, collectors may acquire Flying Eagle cents of the same size with an artistically different representation of an eagle. This is sometimes called the “Small Flying Eagle,” though it is not just smaller; the “Small Flying Eagle” design is very distinctive.

The standard Flying Eagle obverse and the “Small Flying Eagle” obverse were paired with various reverse designs from the time period. All the reverse designs have wreaths.

In 1858, the U.S. Mint distributed 12 piece sets featuring 11 one-cent patterns, with three obverse designs and four reverses. An 1858 piece with the standard Indian cent obverse is obviously a pattern, as regular-issue Indian cents were not minted until 1859. A regular Proof 1858 Flying Eagle cent was included in these 12 piece sets.

“They were produced for pattern purposes but then packaged as 12 piece sets and used in trade for” Washington medals and other numismatic items relating to George Washington, relates Saul Teichman. “These patterns and others were used as trade bait for Washingtoniana as the Mint was trying to build its collection of Washington medals, which were eventually recorded in [U.S. Mint Director] James Snowden’s book on the subject,” Saul emphasizes.

Last July in Baltimore, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded 64 “Small Flying Eagle” one-cent pattern for $2,232.50. That piece is of a variety with a laurel wreath on the reverse. Such pieces tend to be available every year for less than $5,000.

The same “Small Flying Eagle” obverse was mated with an oak wreath reverse. In January 2015, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded 63 piece for $1,938.75, hardly a large amount for such a curious pattern.

Another 1858 “Small Flying Eagle” pattern has a reverse with an oak wreath and a very unusual shield, which never appeared on a regular-issue U.S. coin. In January 2016, Heritage auctioned one of these shield and oak wreath reverse pieces, which was PCGS-graded 63, for $3,525.

During the 1860s and ’70s, Indian cent patterns, usually with regular dies, were struck in a multitude of experimental alloys. Many such pieces are currently valued below $5,000.

In August 2015, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an 1864 cent pattern that was reported to be of a 93% copper and 7% aluminum alloy. It was PCGS-graded 63 and brought $1,292.50. In November 2015, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an 1869 Indian ‘cent’ (Snow PT1b) that was struck in nickel for $2,996.25.

One Cent Nickels

The numerous varieties of Indian cents that are more than 12% nickel were probably coining experiments rather than serious considerations as alternatives to the Copper-Nickel or ‘bronze’ cent issues. At times, however, there were proposals for one-cent nickels as entirely distinct from Flying Eagle or Indian cents. Indeed, these are usually smaller than regular-issue Indian cents and are artistically similar to regular-issue Three Cent Nickels or Liberty Head nickels.


Indeed, the 1869 one-cent nickel patterns are very similar in appearance to regular Three Cent Nickels. In March 2015, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded 64 piece for $1,175. In July 2015, Heritage sold a NGC-graded “65+” piece of the same variety for $2,232.50.

The 1881 one-cent nickel patterns feature a reduced version of the same head of Miss Liberty that is featured on regular-issue Liberty Head nickels. In other ways, 1881 one-cent nickels are reminiscent of Three Cent nickels. From the same one-cent nickel dies, there exist die trials in copper and experiments in aluminum as well.

In June and in November 2010, Spectrum-B&M auctioned 1881 one-cent nickels. “From Sherman’s Obsessive Compulsive Collection,” a PCGS-graded 64 piece brought $2,415. A PCGS-graded 65 piece, with a CAC sticker, realized $4,600 in November, after selling for $3,220 in June 2010.

Shield Patterns of 1896

The Shield pieces of 1896 are perhaps the last of the easily collectible one-cent patterns. These were struck in multiple alloys, most of which have not been precisely identified by current researchers, as far as I know.

1cent1896patternIn January 2015, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-graded 64, 1896 Shield cent pattern that contains quite a bit of nickel for $4,465. It has a CAC sticker.

In March 2012, for $4,025, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded 63 1896 Shield cent pattern that also is probably at least 20% nickel in composition. It, too, has a CAC sticker. In April 2013, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded 62 piece that was said to be “pure nickel” for $3,290.

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In conclusion, with a $5,000 per item limitation, a collector could put together an extensive and exciting set of one-cent patterns from the 19th century. One-cent patterns could also be added to sets of regular-issue cents, Three Cent Nickels, or five-cent nickels.

©2016 Greg Reynolds


Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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