In 1856, the pure copper Large Cent was replaced by the Flying Eagle Penny, made of 88% copper and 12% nickel. The new coin was smaller than the earlier Cents and became a welcome addition to the U.S. monetary system, unlike the unpopular Large Cent. Flying Eagle Pennies were authorized by the Act of February 21, 1857, and designed by James Barton Longacre.
On the obverse of the Flying Eagle Penny is an eagle in flight, accompanied by the date and inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Longacre’s bird image is said to be based on Christian Gobrecht’s silver dollar design that circulated from 1836 to 1839. The reverse features an ornate wreath with ONE CENT in the center.
1856 Flying Eagle Pennies are perhaps the most interesting because they are pattern pieces, rather than official U.S. coins, and were minted before Congress gave the Mint authorization. It didn’t take long for the Mint to realize that the design was difficult to strike, so the series came to an abrupt end in 1858.
Introduced on May 25, 1857, Flying Eagle Pennies were popular from the word go. Hundreds if not thousands of people queued up outside the Philadelphia Mint to exchange their copper and Spanish silver coins for the newly designed smaller pennies. Demand was so huge, nearly 3 million Flying Eagle Pennies were exchanged the first day they were released and early buyers managed to sell their new coins at a premium. By 1859, foreign coins had been driven out and recoined into U.S. coinage. The public fully embraced the Flying Eagle Penny, which inspired many to start collecting rare and valuable coins.
Although Flying Eagle Pennies were well-liked and served their purpose of driving out foreign coins, the Mint struggled to strike Longacre’s design. This was mainly down to the fact that copper-nickel alloy was so hard and the eagle on the obverse had been situated directly opposite the wreath on the reverse. The Mint tried to resolve its issues by experimenting with ways to reduce the weakness of strike, but this resulted in endless problems with die breakages. As the relief was too high also, well struck Flying Eagle Pennies wouldn’t stack correctly.
Weakly struck examples are plentiful, especially those dated 1857. They’re also easy to identify by looking at the eagle’s tail and head, situated opposite the wreath on the reverse. In 1858, the Mint released the Flying Eagle Penny with a lower relief and smaller lettering, resulting in the major variety from the series.
Not only are Flying Eagle Pennies among some of the most hoarded U.S. coins but they’re also considered rare and valuable finds, regardless of date and variety. The 1856 Flying Eagle is especially in demand because no one knows for certain how many pieces were struck, although experts suggest no more than 1,500 to 2,000 examples. Because of this and the fact that it’s a pattern piece, the 1856 Flying Eagle Penny has always been a coin of great worth.
The Flying Eagle Pennies minted for circulation from 1857 to 1858 are readily obtainable because mintages were relatively high. However, many counterfeits exist and show alterations to the date. Proofs were also struck from 1857 to 1858 and are extremely rare, with only 100 specimens known to exist.
When it comes to purchasing Flying Eagle Pennies, we recommend you always seek help from a reputable dealer to avoid fakes. Here at Capital Gold Group, we only source and stock genuine rare coins for our valued clients to add their collections and portfolios. If you need further advice or would like to discuss how we can help you to obtain Flying Eagle Pennies, please don’t hesitate to contact us today.