The Flying Eagle was the first small-sized cent coin minted in the U.S. from 1857 to 1858 , there is also the pattern produced in 1856, which also saw limited circulation. The small cent was a welcome change to many Americans who had disdained the handling of the previous large cents and was also a more affordable solution for the mint as copper prices made the minting of large cents a losing proposition.
Besides being the first small cent, the flying eagle also was the first U.S. circulating coin to use nickel in its composition as the coin had a composition of 88% copper 12% nickel. The use of nickel would open up a new opportunity for many nickel mining operations and helped open the door for nickel alloy use in other coin series.
Designed by James B. Longacre, the obverse of the coin depicts an eagle in flight with the legend "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA". This was a unique design as up until this time eagles were only used on the reverse of U.S. coins.
The reverse of the coin has the words "ONE CENT" surrounded by a wreath, similar to the reverse on the later Indian Head Cent. There were no mint marks used as the Philadelphia mint was the only producer of cent coinage so there was no need to designate a mint.
General Market Notes
For being a very short series, prices are fairly reasonable for coins in the collector grades of fine to very fine for both years 1857 & 1858.
On the expensive side there is the rare 1856 flying eagle cent pattern coin. Though not an official circulating coin, examples did make it into the general public and today are rarities worth thousands of dollars even in the lowest of grades.
If you happen to see an 1858 example be on the look out for varieties. In 1858, there were a total of three different varieties:
- Small Letters
- Large Letters (the legends were larger and thicker)
- 1858/7 over date (the last 8 was punched over a 7) with Large Letters
Of all the varieties, the third variety carries the most value so get some practice with recognizing those 8's over 7's designation.