Archive for December, 2012

The Indian Head Cent, The Precursor to the Wheat Cent

The familiar and trusty small copper penny was not always so small, nor always as the rich amber bronze that we instantly recognize as the Lincoln Cent.  Before the introduction of the Lincoln Wheat Ear Cent in 1909, there was another much loved, bright copper penny in the pockets of Americans, the Indian Head Cent.   It established the look and the color of the “new” cent fifty years earlier, at a time when the public still clung to the heavy, large, familiar Braided Hair Cent.  The Indian Head Cent would eventually become as liked as the old large cents, but fate, and Theodore Roosevelt, gave us the familiar Lincoln Head Cent we use today.

Over 150 years ago, the standard penny weighed about three times as much as the penny of today.  At a massive 13.48 grams of pure copper, the “large cent” certainly felt large in your pocket.  So when the U.S. Mint, in an effort to reduce the demand of copper, changed the weight and correspondingly the size of the standard cent to a tiny 4.67 grams, the public thought it was being duped.  At first people hoarded the old cents, and discounted the new issues as fakes.  Of course, it did not help that the first small cent, the Flying Eagle Cent,  issued in 1856, was so lightly colored and pale through the addition of nickel to the copper that were called “nickels” long before the first 5 cent piece to carry that name.

In order to remedy these problems the U.S. Mint introduced the Indian Head Cent in 1859 and was in continuous production until 1909.  The new coin was better in many ways, first it was the distinct copper color a penny should be.  This was due to the removal of nickel and the substitution of tin and zinc to the copper (so technically speaking the Indian Head Cent, and Wheat Penny for that matter, are bronze, not copper).  The Indian Head Cent was also easier to produce than the Flying Eagle Cent, and the design was well regarded as beautiful and befitting a U.S. coin.  So why was it replaced?  The answer lies in one man’s vision, Theodore Roosevelt.

Roosevelt wanted to revamp the state of U.S. coins at the turn of the twentieth century.  He belived that America needed new coinage to keep up with the new coinage from Europe.  So, as popular and internationally known medal and coin engraver St. Gaudains had recently put his talents to the Dollar,  and as Roosevelt wanted a chance to honor Abraham Lincoln, T.R. instigated a campaign to win public support for the idea of placing Lincoln’s image an a new one cent coin.  Because Lincoln was even more popular in the 1900’s then as he is today, Roosevelt soon had the support he needed to change the coin.

With the new coin’s introduction in 1909, the era of the Indian Head Cent was over, but not lost.  These cents are now highly valued in the their proud owner’s collections, and hopefully will remain there for some time.

Monday, December 31st, 2012 Blog No Comments

A Short History of the United States Mint

The United States Mint was established when the country was still very young. The framers of the constitution recognized the importance of a national currency for the ease of trade and commerce. The plans for the Mint were developed by then Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and, on April 2 1792, The Coinage Act was passed by Congress. This created the national Mint and authorized the first Mint building, which was constructed in Philadelphia – the capital of the USA at the time. In addition to being the first Mint, it also had the distinction of being the first federal building built under the constitution.

The first director of the Mint was David Rittenhouse, who got the position with his skills as treasurer of Pennsylvania from 1777 to 1789 and his acquaintance with George Washington. Rittenhouse was a famous scientist and had contributed significantly to the fields of surveying and astronomy. His biggest contribution to US coinage was in hand striking the very first coins to test the new equipment. The material to form the coins was actually flatware provided by Washington and, as a token of his gratitude to Washington’s help in creating the Mint, Rittenhouse gave the coins to him. Although this first round of production was not approved by Congress, Rittenhouse was still a prominent figure in US Mint history, and in 1871 Congress paid tribute by approving a coin to commemorate his life

The Chief Coiner of the first US Mint was Henry Voigt, who was famous for clock making and steamboat development. He was well acquainted with Thomas Jefferson, as the repairman for his clocks and watches. In 1791 he applied for a job in the new Mint and was considered well qualified for the Chief Coiner position because of prior coin production experience working in a German Mint when he was younger. During his stint at the Mint, he was credited with the creation of some of the first coin designs.

Several branch facilities opened since the development of the first national Mint in 1792, and the need arose for an identifying feature on each coin to show where it was made. Those were, of course, mint marks. The first branch mint facilities were in Charlotte, North Carolina and Dahlonega, Georgia- both from 1838 to 1861. There was also the New Orleans, Louisiana branch, which opened in 1838 as well, but lasted until 1909.

The national mint is now in Washington D.C,  as it is the current capital city of the nation, but Philadelphia is home to the Mint’s largest facility and one of four coin-producing mints that is currently active. The Philadelphia Mint building has changed four times since the inception of Mint operation in 1793. Coins produced in Philadelphia had no mint mark until 1980, except for the Susan B. Anthony dollar and the wartime Jefferson nickel. In 1980, the “P” mint mark was started. Despite losing the national Mint title to Washington D.C., Philadelphia remains the site of the national engraving and design departments of the mint and master die production for U.S. Coinage is also conducted there.

Monday, December 24th, 2012 Blog No Comments

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