On May 25, 1857, the new small-diameter Flying Eagle cent made its debut. Designed by Chief Engraver James B. Longacre, the obverse featured a flying eagle, copied after Christian Gobrecht’s silver dollar of 1836. The reverse showed an agricultural wreath enclosing the denomination. Problems developed with striking the pieces up properly, and in 1859 a new motif, the Indian Head cent, was introduced. With several variations this design was continued through 1909. In that year the Lincoln Wheat Ears cent was introduced. The series was continued for many years, until 1959, when the Memorial Reverse type was introduced, continuing the same Lincoln portrait on the obverse. Then in 2009 several different reverses were introduced to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Lincoln and in 2010 a new reverse to symbolize Lincoln’s preservation of the Union.
Forming a type set of small cents is done easily enough, although the first two issues, the 1857–1858 Flying Eagle cent and the 1859 Indian Head with laurel wreath reverse, can be expensive in higher grades. Striking quality is a consideration for all small cents from 1857 to the end of the Indian Head series in 1909, but enough exist that finding a needle-sharp piece is simply a matter of time. Lincoln cents are easy enough to find sharply struck, though some varieties are more difficult to find this way than others.