The 1864 2-cent piece is a historic and very interesting coin. In fact, the 1864 2-cent piece could qualify as a souvenir of the Civil War, as there is little doubt that had it not been for the Civil War, the 1864 2-cent piece would never have been.
The idea of a 2-cent coin had been around almost from the time the first U.S. coins were authorized. The first proposal for the denomination appeared in Congress in the early 1800s.
The idea might have passed were it not for the concerns that if such a denomination contained silver, it would be hard to remove the silver if it needed to be adjusted. At the time, lost silver was not taken lightly and Congress decided to forgo the coin.
That was a good idea, as the Mint was not even up to the task of producing the denominations that were already authorized. Had a 2-cent piece been approved, it would have had very small and irregular mintages.
However, the new cents that started in 1857 and the Civil War proved that not having a metal value was not vital. Fears over the war had caused people to hoard even copper-nickel cents. Something had to be done and the Act of April 22, 1864, called for a 2-cent piece.
For the first time, the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” was used and the new denomination was rushed into production. The initial mintage of the 2-cent piece was 19,847,500, the highest through its short life.
Because of the rushed production, there were small and large motto 1864 varieties, which can be differentiated by the narrow, stem-less “D” on the large motto.
Precisely why there were large and small motto varieties is unknown. It could have been a routine modification or a pattern die might have been used in the rush to produce coinage. Whatever the actual reason, the small motto is much tougher to find.
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Today the small motto is at $140 in G-4 as opposed to a price of $16.50 for the large motto. In MS-60, the small motto is priced at $1,125 while the large motto is $88. In MS-65 the small motto is $3,000 and the large is $375. In Proof-65, the small motto is $45,000 while the large motto is $1,100.
The high price for the small motto proof is based on an estimated mintage of perhaps 30 pieces. We cannot be sure of the total, but we know Professional Coin Grading Service has only graded 10 and only four were Proof-65 or better.
The 1864 tends to be a fairly stable coin in terms of price, as there is not heavy interest in it. That said, it’s a historic coin especially because it uses the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” for the first time, and it is in general an unusual coin from the Civil War.