I’ve always loved U.S. Cents and today’s vignette involves
first small cent – the 1856 Flying Eagle.
The Small Cent concept evolved during the early 1850s, once the Large Cent had become unpopular in commerce and expensive to manufacture. A process began to determine an alternative coin.
A smaller cent was proposed to contain 88% copper and 12% nickel. The new coin would be traded for old Spanish silver still in circulation as well as Large Cents and Half Cents, both to be discontinued.
James B. Longacre was instructed to prepare a new design. Instead of the Liberty Head style Longacre often preferred, Mint Director Snowden requested a flying eagle design. The final pattern dies were prepared in November 1856.
The first several hundred patterns were then struck with the new design, distributed to the House Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures, President Franklin Pierce, as well as members of Congress and other officials. Other 1856 Cents were illicitly produced for sale to collectors and others. It is estimated that approximately 1500 and 2000 total pieces were minted from the 1856 pattern dies.
Legislation was finalized in early 1857, the dies were updated, cents were minted, and public distribution of the new coin began May 25, 1857.
While most dealers and many collectors have occasional opportunity to see examples of the 1856 Flying Eagle, it is a truly rare coin.
In June 1998 I set up my table at the Long Beach Coin Show about 2 p.m. on Wednesday, then strolled around, looking for something interesting to buy.
I stopped at a certain dealer’s table to take a look; I hadn’t yet bought anything from this guy, but he often had interesting pieces. He was just setting out his material, and 4 coins quickly caught my eye. I spy four certified 1856 Flying Eagles! Talk about a rare sight!
I ask to take a look and find these to be really great coins. There is one VF, one XF, one AU and one MS-62. The MS-62 is just ok, in my opinion, but the other three are excellent for their grade, with good eye appeal.
The price he quotes me for the three circulated pieces is very fair and I scoop them right up, feeling like I’ve taken grand prize at the coin show.
I returned home with my little flock of Flying Eagles, priced them fairly, and customers snapped them up in less than a week. I have never seen coins fly out of stock so fast.
The customers who scored one of these Flying Eagles were delighted, and those who still have them in their collection continue to marvel at their good luck.
For dealer and collector alike, it is sometimes a matter of good luck to be in the right place at the right time to get the rare deal.