Half-Cents and Cents

Obverse of 1803 Large Cent
Reverse of 1803 Large Cent

Ron Guth: Copper coins have been the mainstay of commerce for the man-on-the-street for as long as coins have been made. In America, copper half cents and cents were the first coins produced at the new Mint in 1793. At the time, skilled laborers received a dollar a day for 10 hours of work, so even the half cent denomination was important.

Half Cents and Large Cents were issued in a variety of design types from 1793 until 1857, when both were terminated.

The Large Cent was replaced by a Small Cent of the diameter with which we are familiar today. However, the first Small Cents were much thicker and heavier than today's cents. The Flying Eagle was a short lived design that ran from 1856 to 1858 before being replaced with the Indian Head cent. In 1909, the Lincoln cent was created to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. The obverse design of the Lincoln cent has been in continual use (with some very minor modifications) for a century, making it the most enduring design in American history.

In reality, the Cent is on the decline. Today, its value is insignificant as far as purchases go. It has virtually no intrinsic value (the bronze alloy was converted to copper-coated zinc in 1982). However, the cent still remains one of the most popular and widely collected of all American coins.