Collectible U.S. 1 cent coins have been the catalyst for many coin collectors who fondly remember looking through pennies as children and who eventually became drawn into numismatics as a hobby. Cents make up one of the most diverse and interesting categories of U.S. coins. The history of the U.S. One-Cent Penny, officially known as a “cent,” began when George Washington signed the Mint Act of 1792. Since then, over 300 billion one-cent coins have been minted with 11 different designs. For over 200 years, the penny’s design, from Liberty to Lincoln, has personified the American spirit. There are many legendary pennies which collectors dream to find, like the 1909-S VDB or the 1 Cent Lincoln double die rare issue in 1955. Keep reading to learn more about the history of the cent and to browse our product selection so you can begin your penny journey today!
After the Mint Act of 1792 was signed, it took time to buy the land and build the first U.S. Mint, which opened for full-time coin production in 1793. One of the very first coins struck at the new U.S. Mint, was the new One-Cent coin, known as a Penny. The first circulating U.S. coins in the new America, were copper Large Cents, which were almost 50% larger than the Modern Penny, and was over five times heavier, with a diameter measuring nearly size the of a modern half-dollar today.
The next Cent release was the Liberty Cap large cents of 1793, which are considered the classics of early American copper coinage. The large cent Liberty cap cent (1793 to 1796) had several revisions within just 3 years. The U.S. Mint tried a new minting technique, by using a punch for Liberty’s head and cap, allowing for a consistent appearance and faster production.
The replacement for the Liberty Cap design was known as the Draped Bust large cent, first released in mid-1796. In the closing years of the 18th century, early American commerce was transitioning to the new U.S. Coins, and the one cent coin was the cornerstone of daily commerce. Between 1796 and 1807, over 16 million Draped Bust large cents were minted.
In 1808, the “Classic Head” design replaced the Draped Bust, with a left-facing portrait of Lady Liberty, with her curly hair tied with a headband that is inscribed with LIBERTY. Just over one million pieces struck when production began in 1908, and over the next six years, just over 4.7 million issues were struck by the end of the series in 1814.
The next Cent in the series was the “Coronet” type, also known as the “Matron Head,” which used the latest in mint technology and design innovations at the time. During the 24 years of the Coronet design from 1816 to 1839, the Philadelphia Mint produced a total of 51.7 million pieces.
The Braided Hair Cent was the last Large Cent that began in 1839 and ran for the next 62 years. New steam press technology streamlined the minting process, achieving greater uniformity at a faster minting rate than any of the previous large cents. By 1857, U.S. Mint officials realized that the Large Cent’s size that was designed in 1793, became too large some 60 years later, when consumers wanted smaller pocket change, than the cumbersome and unpopular Large Cent. Americans’ tolerance of carrying around a bunch of heavy, large one-cent coins in their pockets and purses came to a peak, when the Large Cent series was discontinued in 1857.
As the value of the one-cent coin dropped, the Mint released a smaller Flying Eagle Penny design in 1957 that was minted with 12% nickel and 88% copper. The new Flying Eagle pennies were called "White cent" or "Nicks," because the nickel-copper alloy made them look brighter and lighter. After just 2 years, the Flying Eagle Cent was discontinued in 1858.
After the Flying Eagle Cent, the new Indian Cent design was introduced in 1859, that ran for fifty years through 1909. The public loved the simplicity of the coin’s Native American design, so it remained in use for half a century, with a total production of over 1.8 billion pieces. The Indian Head Cent was discontinued in 1909, with the introduction of the Lincoln Cent.
1909 was the Centennial anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s 100th birthday. It was in 1909 that Lincoln Cents were introduced with the iconic portrait of Abraham Lincoln as designed by Victor David Brenner. The reverse featured stalks of wheat, which gave it the nickname, “Wheat Penny.”
During World War II, there was an urgent need for copper to support the war effort. In 1943, the U.S. Mint removed copper from the penny and replaced it with a zinc-coated steel Lincoln cent, which was minted for the first, and only time in U.S. Mint history. This coin stands apart from every other ever minted because it’s magnetic and contains no copper whatsoever.
The U.S. Mint celebrated two events in 1959, the 50th anniversary of the Lincoln cent, and the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. To commemorate this event, the reverse was changed to the Lincoln Memorial design. When the price of copper increased in 1982, the U.S. Mint changed the “copper” composition to a zinc core with a thin copper plating to make the penny recognizable.
In 2009, the Lincoln Bicentennial Cent was issued to celebrate Lincoln’s birth, with four different designs of Lincoln throughout his lifetime. Then in 2010, a new permanent reverse design, the "Preservation of the Union," was released, featuring a Union shield which appears on the reverse all Lincoln cents today.