Large Cents have a face value of 1/100th of an American Dollar and are among the first official U.S. coins struck under the authority of Congress. Manufactured at only the Philadelphia Mint, Large Cents are similar in size to the modern Half Dollar and composed of nearly pure copper. They’re large, bulky coins that circulated heavily and are often found badly worn. Nevertheless, this doesn’t stop collectors from purchasing Large Cents because even the most worn and damaged pieces are considered rare and valuable finds.
Production commenced in 1793 and continued until 1857 when the Large Cent was discontinued to make way for the modern-size penny. Not only was the Large Cent redesigned a number of times over the years but it also adopted many names, all of which can be found below.
The 1793 Flowing Hair Chain Reverse Cent was one of the first coins struck at the United States Mint in Philadelphia. It was minted from late February to the middle of March in 1793 and has a low mintage, making the coin extremely rare. The coin’s design came from chief coiner Henry Voigt who was criticized for depicting Liberty looking messy and frightened.
On the obverse is a right-facing Lady Liberty with unkempt hair flowing backwards. Above her head is the inscription LIBERTY and below her image is the date 1793. The reverse features a chain made from fifteen links, which represent the fifteen states that were in the Union in 1793. This chain encircles the engravings ONE CENT and 1/100 with the 1 above a horizontal line and the 100 below the line. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is situated around the chain.
Although only 36,013 Flowing Hair Chain Reverse Cents were produced in 1793, the series boasts a very famous and sought-after variety. The variety in question was the first to be struck during the series and displays the word AMERICA as AMERI. on the reverse. While this particular variety is the most coveted, all Flowing Hair Chain Cents are among the rarest United States coins.
Fed up with being on the receiving end of endless criticism, the Mint decided to change the design of the Large Cent in 1793. Mint director David Rittenhouse ordered coiner Adam Eckfeldt to remove the chains from the reverse and modify Liberty on the obverse. The second design is known as the Flowing Hair Wreath Reverse and appears more sophisticated than the previous 1793 version.
Eckfeldt gave Liberty more separated and even wilder locks. Liberty’s neck is a little longer and her face appears softer and less frightened. A leafy sprig has also been added to the obverse between Liberty and the date 1793. The inscription LIBERTY remains above her head but is situated slightly to the right. On the reverse is a pretty wreath surrounding the marking ONE CENT. Encircling the wreath is UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and below is the fraction 1/100.
Just over 63,000 Flowing Hair Wreath Reverse Cents were struck in 1793 and many varieties are known to exist. The rarest variety is the “Strawberry Leaf” issue, which features an unidentified plant (or a bunch of leaves) between Liberty and the date, rather than the common leafy sprig.
During the summer of 1793, New Jersey portrait artist Joseph Wright began making new die punches for the Large Cent, as ordered by Mint director David Rittenhouse who was unhappy with the Flowing Hair Wreath Cent. Sadly, Wright died in September shortly after he’d finished his new Liberty Cap design. When fall came in 1793, the Liberty Cap Cent was introduced to the nation. It was clearly more successful than the Mint’s previous two Large Cent issues because it remained in production until 1796.
The obverse of the Liberty Cap Cent features Liberty, facing right with hair gently flowing in the wind. A Phrygian cap is shown just behind her head as though it has been blown off by the breeze. Above her head is LIBERTY and below is the date. On the reverse is a laurel wreath with berries situated around the inscription ONE CENT and above 1/100. Encircling the entire image is UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Minor modifications were made to the Liberty Cap Cent throughout its time in production, with the Starred Reverse being one of the rarest in the series. This variety features stars around the reverse rim. The other ultra-rare variety is the 1795 Reeded Edge Cent. Other scarce varieties include the 1795 Cents with lettered edges, the 1795 Cents with plain edges and those with a missing fraction bar.
In 1796, Robert Scot, who was responsible for designing all American coinage at the time, came up with the Draped Bust design. This meant another design change for the Large Cent. Struck from 1796 to 1807, over 16 million Draped Bust Cents were produced at the Philadelphia Mint.
Still facing right, Liberty is depicted wearing drapery at her neckline on the obverse. She has flowing hair, which has been dressed with a ribbon. The inscription LIBERTY is displayed above the portrait and the date is located below. On the reverse is the ONE CENT denomination, surrounded by a wreath of olive branches. Around the wreath is UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and below the bow holding the wreath together is 1/100.
Several minor design changes occurred between 1796 and 1797, resulting in three wreath reverse varieties. As the lettering on the dies had to punched by hand, error issues are plentiful as well. The great rarity of the series is the 1799 issue.
By 1808, the Large Cent had been produced for just fifteen years and had its fifth major design change. Many years after the coin got its next makeover, it became known as the Classic Head Cent and represented the first time that the head of Liberty was depicted facing left on the Cent. The Classic Head Cent was designed by assistant engraver John Reich and continued to be minted until 1814.
On the obverse is Liberty with beautifully curled hair, held in position with a headband inscribed LIBERTY. Seven stars are displayed to the left of the portrait and six stars to the right, representing the thirteen original states, with the date below. The reverse features a fully closed olive wreath surrounding the denomination ONE CENT and a horizontal line. Like the earlier Large Cent types, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA encircles the wreath.
Classic Head Cents were made using high-quality copper, making them slightly softer and more vulnerable to wear. It’s unusual to find high-grade examples because many pieces are so worn and have lost their original luster. The only rare date is the 1809 issue and some scarce 1810 proof-like (although not actual proofs because none were made) Classic Head Cents have been discovered.
No Large Cents were made in 1815 because the Mint ran out of planchets, so the Coronet Cent didn’t make its debut until 1816. Often called the Matron Head Cent, the Coronet Cent was designed by Robert Scot and struck at the Philadelphia Mint every year until 1839.
Coronet Cents dated 1815 to 1834 have an obverse featuring a left-facing Liberty with the majority of her hair pinned back and wearing a headband inscribed LIBERTY. Thirteen stars surround her and the date is displayed below. In 1835, Christian Gobrecht gave Liberty a more youthful appearance and made some other minor modifications to the obverse, with this design lasting until 1839. The reverse shows a wreath of olive leaves with ONE CENT and a horizontal line in the center. Around the wreath is the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Unlike the obverse, the reverse design remained the same throughout the series.
A total of 57,706,473 Coronet Cents were struck from 1816 to 1839 and several varieties and overdates exist. The 1817 issue with fifteen stars on the obverse is a scarce and most unusual variety because no one is certain why two stars were added to the coin during that year. However, the real rarity is the 1823 issue. Proofs were also made but mostly for presentation sets and are extremely difficult to locate. A small number of one-sided proofs with a frosted finish on the reverse have also surfaced over time.
The Braided Hair Cent first appeared in 1839 and is essentially a modified Coronet Cent with a few noticeable differences. Firstly, the shape of Liberty’s head has been changed and she is shown with braided hair from her ear to her forehead. There is also some new beading around the portion of hair that has been pinned back and Liberty looks younger on the Braided Hair Cent. The reverse displays a bulkier wreath and ONE CENT without the horizontal line beneath. All of the lettering on the reverse appears bolder and wider than on Coronet Cents as well.
There are many Braided Hair Cent varieties including the 1844 and 1851 upside down date punches, the 1846 with small, medium, and large dates, and the 1840 and 1842 issues also with small and large dates. However, these are just a handful of the many varieties in the series. Proof Braided Hair Cents are extremely rare and were minted every year, with the exception of 1839, 1851 and 1853. Interestingly, the Braided Hair design graced the Large Cent one last time in 1868 but all specimens are considered unofficial issues. They were struck both in nickel and copper, and fewer than twelve are known.
From the Flowing Hair, Liberty Cap and Draped Bust Half Cents to the Classic Head, Coronet and Braided Hair Half Cents, Capital Gold Group can help you add these wonderful rare coins to your collection. You’ll also be pleased to learn that we offer certified Large Cents that have been professionally graded by either the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) or the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS).
For more information about Large Cents or to discuss how you can get your hands on any of the rare pieces mentioned on this page, please feel free to reach out to our trusted experts. As always, you can reach us by phone, email or the online message form on our Contact page.