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Item of the Week: 1870 Two-Cent Piece

The 1870 two-cent piece is a slightly better date. It is not the key two-cent piece business strike as that honor falls to the 1872 while the proof only 1873 remains the toughest date needed to fill a collection. That said, the 1870 tells a story about the times and about the denomination so it’s a date worth knowing and having in a collection.

:  The 1870 two-cent piece, minted at Philadelphia, bears no mint mark.  861,250 of these coins were struck, which was the first time the two-cent piece mintage total fell below one million. (Image courtesy of

The 1870 two-cent piece, minted at Philadelphia, bears no mint mark. 861,250 of these coins were struck, which was the first time the two-cent piece mintage total fell below one million. (Image courtesy of

The two-cent piece was, from the start, an emergency issue. Stretching all the way back to the early 1800s there had been proposals about having a two-cent piece but they did not go very far. In fairness, no one really had any good answers for a couple of the problems in the way of having a two-cent piece.

The first of the problems over the two-cent piece which no one seemed to solve was the composition. If you made some odd combination of metals such as something involving silver the coin could be hard to make and it could be impossible to get the silver if you wanted to melt them down. If you just made the proposed two-cent piece the size of the existing large cent you ended up with a coin about half the size of a rock and about as easy to carry around.

The second thing which no one seemed to figure out at least initially was why the Mint, which was facing a national coin shortage, should start making a new denomination which might or might not be used. After all, silver dollars and gold eagles were suspended for decades primarily because the Mint had needed to use its time and resources on other denominations. To simply toss in a two-cent piece seemed like a questionable use of those precious resources and time at the troubled Mint.

The Civil War solved all the problems at once. The two-cent piece, as well as any other denomination, was desperately needed because the hoarding had been seen literally all coins disappear. There was really no double that if a two-cent piece was released the people would find a use for them. The matter of composition was also solved as well as the old worry about the metal value of coins was also gone. In fact, officials approved a bronze cent simply because they were confident the people would not hoard bronze and that is a perfect choice for the two-cent piece as well.

The mint poured out an impressed number of two-cent pieces in the first year of 1864. The mintage was over 19.5 million and at that time that was a very heavy mintage in less than a full year. The new denomination was also apparently accepted as the following year saw a mintage of 13,640,000. Based on the mintages the denomination looked to be wildly popular.

Looks, however, can sometimes be deceptive and that was the case with the two-cent piece. They were being used primarily because there was nothing else to use. In an emergency they were fine but the two-cent piece had no real role in commercial transactions that two cents could not handle perfectly fine without a different denomination.

There has been an assortment of suggestions as to why the two-cent piece was not a success. One which makes a certain amount of sense is simply that it was not needed. That was especially true once a copper-nickel three-cent piece appeared along with the first nickel. While there was a severe national coin shortage, the two-cent piece was fine but once there were adequate supplies in circulation of other denominations, the need for a two-cent piece quickly disappeared.

That is why we see the mintage of the 1870 at 861,250. The number is significant as it was the first time the two-cent piece dropped below a one million total. It would continue to go down from the 1870 total but the 1870 was the first and with a mintage below one million it should be a better date.

In fact, the 1870 is a better date at $26 in G4 as opposed to $10-15 for the most available dates. In MS60 the 1870 is at $245, while an MS65 is at $1,950 with a Prf-65 at $900. In fact, all are possible with PCGS reporting 76 examples in MS65 or better. In Prf65 or better the total is 193.

Whatever grade you decide the 1870 really marks the beginning of the end for the two-cent piece. The mintages would drop and after 1872 there were no more business strikes with the proof only 1873 being the final two-cent piece. That gives the 1870 something of an interesting place in the history of the short-lived denomination.