The year was 1864 and the Civil War was still raging on. Both sides of the conflict were suffering hardships and each representative government was racking up debt funding the war. On the home front, the war was lasting much longer than people believed. Soon coinage was being hoarded and some (silver & gold coinage) was sent to Europe in an effort to protect an individual’s wealth.
With a lack of coinage, commerce became increasing difficult. The U.S. congress attempted to mitigate the problem by issuing fractional currency notes but it met with little success. Many small companies and merchants solved their own coinage problems by issuing their own privately struck coinage or merchant tokens.
The federal government did not consider these tokens to be legal tender issues and officials were becoming increasingly concerned about the proliferation of the tokens and where the economy and commerce was headed.
The Act of April 22, 1864, authorized the striking of the 2-cent coins with the primary purpose
of eliminating the need for tokens and fractional currency in an attempt to return commerce to some state of normalcy.
Designed by James B. Longacre, the U.S. 2 cent coin (sometimes called 2 cent pieces) had a composition of 95% copper and 5% tin/zinc and was minted from 1864 to 1873. The obverse design features a national shield with stripes in front of two crossed arrows. Laurel branches flanked the shield. Above the shield is a ribbon that bears the legend “IN GOD WE TRUST”, making it the first U.S. coin to ever bear the legend (note: based on the obverse design, the official name of the 2 cent piece is the Shield Two Cent).
Though no reference to GOD had ever appeared on a coin prior to the 2 cent piece, it was not necessarily a surprise in 1864. Prior to the war, the U.S. was already facing a religious movement and with the United States expanding westward there was already efforts against the heathens of the west. The bloody Civil War reinforced the movement and call for a more righteous and GOD fearing nation.
The reverse design features a simple yet attractive and neat design depicting the words "2 CENTS" within a wreath tied at the bottom with a ribbon, all surrounded by the legend "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA". No mint marks exist as the Philadelphia mint was the only mint to make the coin.
There is only one type coin for the series but there are two major varieties that exist for the 1864 issues, a small letters motto and large letters motto.
Additionally, the dates on the 2 cent pieces were hand punched which have led to many smaller varieties prized by collectors of the series.
General Market Notes
Initially the 2 cent coin was well received by the public which justified the approximately 20 million coins minted in 1864 making the 1864 issue the most common and affordable coin in the series.
Yet, once the war was over and older coinage began to return to circulation demand quickly died down and annual mintages were reduced steadily and can be seen with mintages not exceeding 900,000 from 1870 until 1872 with a mintage of only 65,000 making the 1872 issue the key for circulating issues.
By 1873, the final year of mintage, the U.S. mint chose to only produce proof coins and even these only had a total mintage of 600 and even a subsequent restrike had at best a mintage of only 500.
For the value investor, there are several potential candidates and a personnel favorite is the year 1869. Coins dated 1869 (mintage of 1,546,500) are difficult to locate in a condition of extra fine or better but current prices are only slightly higher than previous years with much larger mintages in the same grades.