Small Cents - Chapter ImageOverview of Small Cents

  • Small Cents - Obverse Image
  • Small Cents - Reverse Image

Small Cents: Design Types

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.

Recommended Reading

  • Bowers, Q. David. A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents, Atlanta, GA, 2008.
  • Snow, Richard. A Guide Book of Flying Eagle and Indian Head Cents (2nd ed.), Atlanta, GA, 2009.
  • Fivaz, Bill, and Stanton, J.T. The Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties (5th ed., vol. II), Atlanta, GA, 2009.
  • Bowers, Q. David. A Buyer’s and Enthusiast’s Guide to Flying Eagle and Indian Head Cents, Wolfeboro, NH, 1996.
  • Lange, David W. The Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents, Wolfeboro, NH, 1996.
  • Snow, Richard. Flying Eagle and Indian Cent Attribution Guide 1856–1909 (2nd ed.), Tuscon, AZ, 2010.
  • Steve, Larry, and Flynn, Kevin. Flying Eagle and Indian Cent Die Varieties, Jarretteville, MD, 1995.
  • Taylor, Sol. The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent, Anaheim, CA, 1999.
  • Wexler, John, and Flynn, Kevin. The Authoritative Reference on Lincoln Cents, Rancocas, NJ, 1996.
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