Flying Eagle Cents, 1856-1858

Flying Eagle Cents, 1856-1858

The Flying Eagle Cent, designed by James B. Longacre, was struck in huge numbers in 1857 and 1858, primarily in order to redeem worn Half Cents, Large Cents and fractional Spanish and Mexican silver coins which circulated throughout the country prior to the Civil War.

The Flying Eagle Cent was first introduced in 1856. Approximately 600 pieces were initially minted and distributed throughout influential circles in order to secure approval of the design. Collectors soon caught on to the scarcity of this experimental issue and those available coins were privately fetching upwards of $2 or more. The mint then produced an estimated 1,000 restrikes in proof condition. Today, the 1856 Flying Eagle Cent is correctly referred to as a pattern or experimental coin, although it is generally collected as part of the regular small cent series.

The Flying Eagle Cent was the first small cent minted in the U.S. and gained public acceptance very quickly. Much of this acceptance was based on the coins’ appearance when worn. Unlike the pure copper Large Cents, Flying Eagle Cents were struck in an alloy of 88% copper and 12% nickel. This alloy gave the coins a clean, white appearance, increased their intrinsic value, improved their wearing qualities while in circulation, and made counterfeiting of cents more difficult. After a brief two-year life, the Flying Eagle design was abandoned in favor of the well-known Indian Head design.

Designed by: James Barton Longacre
Issued Date: 1856 (pattern issue) – 1858
Composition: 0.88 parts copper, 0.12 part nickel
Diameter: 19 mm
Weight: 72 grains
Edge: Plain
Total Business Strike mintage: 42,050,000
Total Proof Strike mintage: Fewer than 2,000

The obverse employs Christian Gobrecht’s eagle in flight, first seen on the silver dollar patterns struck between 1836 and 1839. Above the eagle is the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; the date below. The reverse displays a wreath of cotton, corn, wheat, and tobacco surrounding the word ONE CENT. This style of wreath was used earlier on James Longacre’s designs for the $1 and $3 gold coins of 1854.

For a type set, no difficulty will be encountered in the search for an 1857 or 1858 Flying eagle cent in any grade from Fine through Extremely Fine.  AU pieces are not difficult to find, and uncirculated coins appear with some frequency. Truly superb uncirculated pieces are rare.


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