Early Copper Coins Of The United States

Copper has been an extremely important mineral for thousands of years. It has been used for conducting heat and electricity. It has also been used to create art, building materials and coins.

Copper coins first appeared in the United States in the late 1700s. The US penny was named after the British penny, or pence.

Though it seems like small change, in its day the half-cent could actually purchase items of value: it was the equivalent of today’s dime.

Compared to today’s coins, early coins were heavy and the designs were much simpler. The half-cent was about the size of today’s quarter coin. Each one featured the face of Lady Liberty.

1793 Chain Cent

1793 Chain Cent Obverse

The first copper coin design was known as the “Chain” cent. It featured a relief of the head of the Lady Liberty with her hair flowing in the wind. The back of the coin shows a loop of chain links. Unfortunately the coins were seen as Liberty in fear of the chains, which represented bondage and slavery.

Due to the negative reactions of the American people, the chain links were replaced with a wreath. In 1793 the “Wreath” cent became the main copper coinage in the United States.

1793 Chain Cent Reverse

1793 Chain Cent Reverse

In 1794, a new coin was introduced. It was called the “Liberty Cap.” It was an interesting design with Liberty wearing a crown of leaves on her head and is now considered very rare. The coin’s weight was reduced and featured a plain edge versus the “gripped edge” some previous coins had.

During a copper shortage in 1795, President George Washington made a Proclamation reducing the weight of cents and half-cents. As a result many of theses coins where made much thinner and didn’t have edge lettering.

1809 Classic Head Large Cent

1809 Classic Head Large Cent

A coin depicting a bust of Liberty wearing a shawl draped around her shoulders was minted in 1796. This was called the “Draped Bust.” The “Classic Head” cent was minted from 1808 to 1814 and the “Matron Head” design appeared in 1816. The “Classic” and “Matron” designs featured a very Greek-looking Liberty, with curled hair and a crown.

Several coins were minted after the mid-1800s. They included various designs, such as the “Braided Hair” half-cent, where Liberty’s hair is braided around her crown. Other coins during this time period featured various versions of wreaths, the addition of stars around Liberty’s head and edge lettering or numbering.

With the increasing prices of copper and labor to mint the coins, half cent coins were discontinued forever in 1857. Two-cent and three-cent coins were considered by the US government, but were not of interest to the American people and neither was the half-cent coin.

By D. Slone, Copyright CoinCollectorGuide.com 2008

Be sure to check these articles:

Valuable Copper Pennies and Zinc Errors

Save Those Copper Pennies



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One Response to “Early Copper Coins Of The United States”
  1. Jackie Morphey says:

    I have a “coin”, smallish like a dime or penny size, coppery in color. On one side it says Abrham Lincoln for President and on the reverse it says Andrew Johnson for Vice President. Any idea where I can find info on such an item?

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