KEY AND BETTER DATE BLOG SERIES: Flying Eagles
One of the first things to know about collecting United States coins is how the various denominations and types came into being, and which among them are considered better date and rare coins. It is these coins that are more difficult to acquire. And they are the ones that, over time, will more likely go up in value.
So, we thought the best way to approach this topic will be to present the types of US coins people are most likely to have, first. Later, we’ll take up the more obscure, but equally intriguing, types.
Today’s topic is the Flying Eagle cents.
The first thing to know is that these were the first “small cents.” The cents prior to this period, the “large cents,” were twice the size and much heavier. People were very pleased that the mint saw fit to produce cents of a more convenient size, and more in line with it’s reduced purchasing power. (Inflation is not just a modern thing!)
The first public appearance of the small cents was in 1857. The coins featured a beautiful rendition of the American Eagle in flight on the obverse (front) side, and a wreath of cereal grains on the reverse.
Unlike the older copper large cents, the Flying Eagle cents were made of an alloy of copper and nickel. The coins were expected to wear better in circulation due to the relative hardness of nickel.
The rarest of Flying Eagle cents was struck in 1856 without formal authorization. These 1856 dated coins were distributed to members of Congress. A prominent owner of western nickel mines, Joseph Wharton, lobbied Congress for adoption of the new alloy. The 1856, though not considered a regular issue coin, is nevertheless highly prized by collectors.
The Flying Eagle cents, once approved, were only made for two years, 1857 and 1858, as regular issues. There are two varieties of the 1858 coin: the “large letters” variety, on which the “A” and “M” of AMERICA are connected, and the “small letters” variety, on which they are not.
Flying Eagle cents, though a short series, are highly collectible. All would be considered “better dates,” with the 1856 being “rare.”
RARE BETTER DATE
1858 Large Letters
1858 Small Letters