U.S. Small Cents

The United States started minting small cents in 1857 to encourage people to start exclusively using United States coins and to eliminate the costs of making the half-cent and large cent. The first ones minted were the flying eagle coins, but others followed soon.

What are some examples of U.S. small cents?

The United States has made several small cents, including:

  • Flying eagle coins
  • Indian head coins
  • Wheat pennies
  • Lincoln Memorial cents
  • Lincoln bicentennial reverse
  • Lincoln shield reverse
What are flying eagle coins?

Flying eagles have a picture of an eagle in flight with the words "United States of America" on the obverse while the reverse shows the words "one cent" surrounded by a wreath on the reverse. Several different varieties of this copper-nickel coin are known to exist. Early in 1858, the U.S. mint used the same plates from 1857 overwriting the 7 with an 8, so some flying eagles show up in both years. In some flying-eagles, the "AM" in America are joined while in others they are separated.

What are Indian head cents?

United States mints replaced the flying eagles with Indian head cents in 1859. This coinage shows a facial profile wearing a headdress on the obverse with words "United States" in front of the face and the words "of America" behind the face. The reverse of this coinage shows the words "one cent" surrounded by a wreath with a shield at the top. There are several unique Indian heads that collectors often watch for, including:

  • No shield - The first Indian heads had no shield on the reverse. Additionally, those made from 1859 to 1864 were made of a mixture of copper and nickel while those made later contained a mixture of copper and tin or copper and zinc.
  • 1864 "L" - Two varieties of these pennies were made in 1864. People often search for the one with an "L" on the ribbon behind the facial profile and a fuller bust.
  • 1869 shadow - Some Indian heads produced in 1869 had a shadow above the six or the nine because of a double die problem.
  • 1873 open 3 - A close evaluation of the three on these Indian heads shows that the three is more open on some than others. Collectors often hunt for those where the three starts at the same point as the bottom of the line on the top of the seven.
  • 1873 double liberty - Look closely at the word liberty on these Indian heads, and it will appear to be double because of die problems. Some also show a double eyelid and a double hairline.
  • 1888 8 over 7 - The same plate was used to make the 1888 Indian heads as the 1887 ones. The seven is still barely visible under the eight on some of these coins.