Flying Eagle Cents


1858 Flying Eagle Cent

A Guide Book of Flying Eagle
and Indian Head Cents

Flying Eagle Cent

By 1857, the cost of making and distributing copper coins had risen. Mint Director James Ross Snowden reported that they barely paid expenses. Both cents and half cents had become unpopular; in fact, they hardly circulated outside the larger cities. The practice of issuing subsidiary silver coins, which began in 1853, brought about a reform of the copper coinage. The half cent was abandoned and a smaller cent was introduced in 1857.

The law of 1857 brought important benefits to the citizens. By its terms, Spanish coins were redeemed and melted at the mint in exchange for new, small cents. The decimal system became popular and official thereafter, and the old method of reckoning in reales, medios, shillings, and so on was gradually given up (although the terms two bits and penny were still commonly used). The new, convenient small cent won popular favor and soon became a useful instrument of retail trade and a boon to commerce.

The Act of February 21, 1857, provided for the coinage of a new copper-nickel small cent. It also called for Spanish and Mexican coins and old copper cents and half cents in circulation to be brought in and exchanged for U.S. silver coins and the new cents. The cent weighed 72 grains, with a metallic composition of 88% copper and 12% nickel.

The 1856 Flying Eagle cent, a pattern, was made to show Congress how the new cent would look. Additional Proof pieces were struck for sale to collectors. It is believed that between 2,000 and 3,000 pieces were struck in all. These have always been collected along with regular issues because of their early widespread popularity.

Some 1858-dated cents have been deceptively altered to read 1856. They are easy to spot because the shape of the 5 is different on the 1858 than it is on the 1856.

Many varieties are known for 1857 and 1858. In particular, 1858 is found with two major variations. In the Large Letter design, the A and M in AMERICA are joined, while in the Small Letter design they are separated; minor variations of the reverse designs of corn, wheat, cotton, and tobacco also appear. The 1858, 8 Over 7 variety can be identified by a small dot in the field above the first 8 — during production, the die was ground down until the 7 was invisible. Coins with the 7 showing are more desirable.

For more information about this coin, see Flying Eagle cent at Wikipedia.

If you collect Indian Head cents, we highly recommend this book for your personal library: A Guide Book of Flying Eagle and Indian Head Cents, by Richard Snow.

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