Guide to Cents Values
The 2 Cent Piece has the distinction of being the first coin to bear the inscription “In God We Trust.” This coin did not last long. Read More
The Lincoln cent was part of the Teddy Roosevelt-led redesign of American coinage and has endured for longer than any other U.S. coin. Read More
Large Cents are very widely collected in America. Commonly circulated early U.S. coins are rare in higher qualities and a link to unique history. Read More
Half Cents were a commonly used coin for much of American history, now commonly collected in all their varieties. Read More
Cents and Pennies
Cents and pennies are one of the longest lasting, most common categories of American coinage. Though the common and currently minted Lincoln cent is the most recognizable, this series has a wide variety of issues.
Though U.S. cent pieces have existed since 1793, they were not accepted as payment everywhere, as foreign coins like the Spanish “piece of eight” were often used instead for small transactions. This changed in 1857 when foreign coinage was officially removed from legal tender status and the government instituted a buying program for Spanish silver to push U.S. cent coins.
The composition of the cent has changed over its lifespan, from pure copper to the zinc with copper cladding we see today. Designs have also changed many times. From large cents to Lincoln pennies, these coins have been favorites with collectors due to their history and (in newer issues) reasonable price and availability.
Half cents were struck from 1793 to 1857 alongside the large cent, and they had a variety of designs over the time they were minted. These coins were used for smaller transactions, and the metal composition made wear from circulation more common than it would be with more durable designs. A collection of half cents in even poor condition is a challenge for seasoned numismatists.
Large cents are among the most collected coin types for collectors of U.S. coins. These were struck from pure copper in a variety of designs from 1793 to 1857, with an exception in 1815 because of a lack of blank Copper planchets. The 1793 large cent holds the distinction of being the first coin struck by the United States Mint at an official facility. The large cent went through several design iterations over its lifespan.
The Flying Eagle penny was produced from 1856 to 1858 and replaced the older large cent, mostly due to the rising cost of Copper. The 1856 issue was a pattern, or proof of concept. Few examples were struck and fewer survive. The smaller size and introduction of nickel to the metal composition addressed cost concerns, but the design did not strike well and the coin was replaced with a different design.
The Indian Head penny was the successor to the Flying Eagle design. This design was struck from the same alloy as the Flying Eagle from 1859 to 1864, then from 95% Copper with a mix of tin and zinc for the other 5% from 1864 to 1909. This design proved popular and was easier to strike than the Flying Eagle.
Lincoln pennies have been in circulation from 1909 to the present, and were originally struck from 95% Copper. In 1943 they were briefly made from steel due to war needs, and in 1982 they were changed to Copper-plated zinc. Though the obverse Lincoln head design has stayed the same, it has had various reverses through the years. The reverse of most interest to numismatists is the wheat sheaf, which was produced from 1909 to 1958. These are popular with both serious and casual numismatists.
Two-cent pieces were produced from 1864 to 1872 for circulation and in 1873 for collectors. These cents were authorized to be produced of 95% Copper in 1864, the same year the Indian Head penny moved to that alloy. Hoarding of coinage during the Civil War made circulation of private one and two-cent tokens common, and the U.S. government moved to curb this with its new coin issues.
Three-cent pieces had a short lifespan as coins go, which makes them relatively uncommon. The tiny three-cent Silver coin was struck from 75% Silver and 25% Copper from 1851 to 1854, then changed to 90% Silver until its demise in 1873. Three-cent nickel coins were struck from 1865 to 1889 and rarely circulated, with many specimens still available in even Uncirculated grades.
There was a time when it was fairly easy to find Lincoln wheat pennies in pocket change. This is becoming less and less common, but it’s still a standard entry point for young numismatists and a great way for them to get started in the hobby. Assembling a set of every year of Lincoln cents is less challenging compared to most other issues. Silver three-cent pieces are also relatively inexpensive for their age.
On the other end of the spectrum, early half cents and large cents can be extremely expensive and hard to find, even in low grades. Sets of these pose a challenge for even well-heeled and knowledgeable numismatists and collectors.
The Price Guide
The PCGS Price Guide prices apply only to PCGS-graded coins. The PCGS Price Guide is a guide to assist the coin buying public in determining values for all important United States rare coins. The prices listed in the PCGS Price Guide are average dealer asking prices for PCGS-graded coins. The prices are compiled from various sources including dealer ads in trade papers, dealer fixed price lists and website offerings, significant auctions, and activity at major coin shows.Learn More