Minted: 1864-1873 (Philadelphia, PA)
Designer: James Barton Longacre
Value: USD 0.02
Mass: 6.2g
Diameter: 23mm
Edge: Plain
Composition: 95% copper, 5% zinc/tin

The two-cent coin was a strange concept that almost didn't make it, but did, for awhile. Originally considered and rejected as impractical in 1806, then rejected again in 1836, it was in the middle of the Civil War that the two-cent finally made it into circulation. The Civil War created a financial crisis that led to the federal government issuing large quantities of paper money to pay debts, and the general public hoarded large amounts of gold and silver coinage in return. The Coinage Act of 1864 authorized the two-cent to ease the shortage.

The two-cent was designed by James Barton Longacre, and looks much akin to the longer-lasting Shield Nickel, which Longacre designed after the war. Notably, it featured the motto "IN GOD WE TRUST" for the first time on US currency, in a ribbon atop the obverse side of the coin. Below the ribbon is a shield, with two arrows crossed behind it, encircled by a wreath. The date is at the bottom and there is no mint mark. On the reverse one finds another wreath encircling the text "2 CENTS", with "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" around the outside edge.

Almost twenty million two-cent pieces were struck in 1864, but production rapidly declined after that, until finally only 1000-some proofs were struck in 1873. The return of more coinage to circulation post-war meant that the two-cent lost much of its importance. 100 years later, a revival was considered but never approved, and today, very few people are aware of this unusual piece of American numismatic history.

These days, the penny seems to suffer the same lack of practicality...but that's just my two cents' worth.


United States Coinage

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