In the past few years, calls have on more than one occasion been heard for abolishing our 1-cent pieces, since the cost for making them has risen above the face value of the coin. Despite such calls, the Mint still pounds out our smallest denomination, perhaps in part because the cost of production is recouped through the production of dimes and quarters. Curiously though, very little of the discussion about our smallest denomination includes the idea of a revival of a 2-cent coin – even though we have already had one. Perhaps it is only the collector community that remembers much about the decade-long production of 2-cent pieces. And even among collectors, there appears to be few that dive deeply into this now-vanished copper piece.
One for a Type Set
First issued in 1864, as the Civil War was grinding to its amazingly bloody and un-civil end, the 2-cent pieces came spewing out of the main mint in Philadelphia in quite a torrent. For many collectors, what is called the “large motto” version of the 1864, the most common in the series, is the lone piece they ever pick up. After all, grabbing one of these means we’ll have what we require for any overall type set of United States coins that we might intend to build, and one example of Mr. James Longacre’s artistry for this small, copper denomination.
How About a Date Run?
As with every other series of coins, U.S. or foreign, folks often try to collect a full date run as a means of going above and beyond a single type coin. When it comes to the 2-cent pieces, this encompasses the years 1864 to 1873, not too long a stretch. On the surface, then, a date run doesn’t seem all that tough. But looking into the overall mintages for each year makes us realize that this is a bigger challenge than we might first expect.
We just commented that 1864 saw a hefty mintage of 2-cent pieces. The total number is 19,822,500 when it comes to the just-mentioned large motto variety and the much less common small motto variety (more on this in a moment). The very next year saw a production figure almost as high, meaning just over 13.6 million. For today’s collector, by any measure, these are going to be common pieces. But after these two years of plenty, the numbers drop – and do so quickly.
To prove our point, the year 1866, for example, saw an output of only 3,177,000 of these new coppers. While that’s plenty for any of the collectors who are interested today, it must have been rather small in its own time, as the 1870 decadal U.S. Census indicated there were 38,925,598 people living in the newly reunited nation at that point. We can only imagine how many people actually saw any of these new coins since the 1864, the ’65 and the ’66 mintages didn’t add up to that number.
The numbers continued to drop for the 2-cent pieces, until in 1870 they dipped below 1 million. By 1872, they were down to only 65,000 pieces. And the final year of production, the 1873, saw only 600 pieces produced, all of them proofs. It doesn’t take much by way of imagination to realize that the final few years within this series are the reason that a date run is indeed a challenge.
The Price Point
No matter what the date, or the total mintage, there seems to be a jumping-off point of sorts, when it comes to the prices of 2-cent pieces. If we’d simply like to snag one at a decent price, well, that’s possible for those dated 1864 up to 1870, if we don’t mind specimens that sport a bit of wear. But today the collecting community seems to have a constantly burning desire for Mint State pieces. This presents a problem for this series, since even the most common dates cost over $100 in a grade such as MS-60. Most of us probably consider that a bit high for a single 2-cent piece. But if we are willing to drop to a grade like EF-40 – circulated, but still with plenty of detail – then the price comes down to less than half. It’s worth thinking about.
We’ve already indicated that the 1864 was produced in two different varieties, with the small motto version being much less common than the large. This isn’t the only variety within this relatively short series, though. In 1867 there was a doubled die obverse produced, which commands a serious premium. Also, there are two varieties of the 1873 proof, based on the shape of the “3” in the date. Aficionados of the series indicate that all of what are called the open variety of the 1873 proof are restrikes. But still, this coin makes it on all the standard price lists and reference books. And since it is a proof, yes, it will be expensive.
We’re discussing the 2-cent pieces as a series that is pretty much beyond the main stream, and indeed it seems to be that for most of us. But when varieties have been identified and priced, and when there are a couple of key proofs in the mix, it seems apparent that there are some collectors who consider this an interesting series. For those of us without the means to go for the rare varieties or the proofs, the series still has a good deal to offer. And should the debate about ending the 1-cent coin again rear its head, some sort of reprise of the 2-cent denomination may very well bring it right back into the mainstream.