Large Cent (1816-1820)

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1818 Coronet Head Large Cent, Obverse
1818 Coronet Head Large Cent, Reverse
The 1816-1820 Coronet Head Large Cents are affordable Thomas Jefferson-era coins.

Specifications

  • Designer: Robert Scot or John Reich
  • Obverse Design: Liberty Head
  • Reverse Design: Single-bow Wreath
  • Edge: Plain
  • Weight: 10.89 g
  • Diameter: 28-29 mm
  • Composition: 100% Copper

History

The Coronet Head large cents were struck from 1816 to 1839. Only a couple of dates in the series are particularly scarce, those being the 1821 and 1823 cents. That means all the Coronet Head cents struck during the last years of Jefferson’s life, 1816-26, and are well within the means of the cost-conscious collector. In fact, the 2006 retail values for any Coronet Head large cent dated 1816-26, are pretty consistent across the board. For any of these dates, you can expect to pay $20-$35 for a piece in low to average circulated condition– maybe $30-$45 for the 1816 date. Even in the lower grades, these large cents should have readable dates.

The Coronet Head large cent is not actually considered an early U.S. coin type. U.S. collectors, particularly those that collect early U.S. copper, consider 1815 to be the cut-off date for the “Early U.S.” designation. But the earliest years of the Coronet Head cent do span what many other collectors consider to be the “Early U.S.” period, and that would be any U.S. coin struck up to and including 1820. Personally, I like 1820 as the cutting-off-date for “Early U.S..” For one thing 1820 is a nice even number. Secondly, no less than three key Revolutionary War figures were still alive in 1820: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and King George III (the monarch to whom Jefferson addressed the Declaration Of Independence in 1776)! Thirdly, 1820 is just one scant generation removed from the lifetime of George Washington, who died in 1799.

Actually, the dates of 1816 and 1817 could be particularly worthwhile when it comes to seeking a Jefferson-Era Coronet Head large cent. And it’s not just because those are the two earliest dates of the series! If you have a Red Book handy, or any other value guide of U.S. coins,you will notice something interesting. There are not U.S. silver coins of any denomination with the date of 1816! In fact there are no gold coins with a date of 1816! As for the 1817-dated coins, there is only one U.S. silver coin with that date: the 1817 Capped Bust half dollar. No U.S. gold coins are dated 1817. Yet, in those two years, the U.S. Mint struck just under 3 million large cents dated 1816, and just under 4 million 1817 large cents! So why did the U.S. Mint strike so many large cents in 1816 and 1817, while completely ignoring half dimes, dimes, quarters, dollars, and all gold coins?

Someone who has studied the history of Spanish-Colonial silver coins circulating in the early United States could offer this explanation: in the years spanning 1806-20, the U.S. Mint virtually ceased making all silver coin denominations (save for the half dollar in 1817) because of a huge influx of Spanish silver coins into this country! The U.S. Mint could not compete with the popular, fine-silver Spanish coins struck at the mints of Mexico City and Lima, Peru (among others). The large number of Spanish ½,1, 2, and 8 reales meant there was no demand for U.S. half dimes, dimes, quarters and dollars. That would seem to explain the lack of U.S. silver coins dated 1816 and 1817. But that’s not actually the true story behind the cent-dominated years of 1816 and 1817.

Fire! The bane of our ancestors (though not as deadly as rampant disease and sickness, to be sure). In the old days, buildings generally didn’t meet their end by virtue of demolition– it was usually by fire. History is FILLED with fire: houses burning, public buildings burning, entire cities burning! Sometimes an invading army was to blame. More often, however, it was the accident-waiting-to-happen mixture of wooden structures, candles, fireplaces, and wood-burning stoves (and no smoke alarms to speak of). In any event, an outbuilding of the early U.S. Mint in Philadelphia caught fire in January of 1816. All the rolling mills used to roll out planchets for silver and gold coins were destroyed or damaged beyond use. New machinery would have to be procured and installed, but that would take some time. What to do in the meantime? You can’t make silver or gold coins, but you CAN make copper coins! So they minted large cents.

And now you know the rest of the story. Some 3 million 1816 large cents (a large mintage for that period) came pouring out of the Mint, followed by some 4 million 1817-dated large cents. Were it not for the fire of January 1816, the 1816 and 1817 Coronet Head large cents would likely have been struck in smaller numbers, and thus, been much scarcer today than they are.

Background

When we think of famous American “Founding Fathers,” three names leap immediately to people’s minds: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and, of course, Thomas Jefferson. We may be growing more history-challenged by the year, but mention the name of Thomas Jefferson to the man-on-the-street, and you will likely NOT get a blank stare in response.

Thomas Jefferson is still a well-known figure. His face appears on the U.S. nickel. And most Americans (hopefully) know that Jefferson was not only one of our first Presidents but that he also penned the Declaration Of Independence. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of American history also knows that Jefferson is responsible for the 1803 Louisiana Purchase which extended our nation’s territory south and west.

Even though we associate Jefferson with the colonial era, he lived well past the period when America was made up of only thirteen British colonies. Thomas Jefferson died in 1826, at the ripe old age of 83. To the very end, this Renaissance Man pursued his love of science, nature, philosophy, and architecture. Not only did Jefferson design the still-stunning architectural marvel of a home, Monticello, but he is also responsible for designing many of the buildings at the University of Virginia. Founding Father, President of the United States, and overall genius– the remarkable Thomas Jefferson was all of these.

Acquiring a U.S. coin struck during the lifetime of Thomas Jefferson is quite do-able for the budget-minded collector. Affordable–maybe not cheap, but affordable– Jefferson-Era U.S. coins are available in the Draped Bust and Classic Head half cent series, the Draped Bust large cent series, the Capped Bust dime series, and the Capped Bust Quarter series. However, your most affordable Jefferson-Era U.S. coin will likely be a Coronet Head large cent.

Mints

Grading

Wear on the Coronet-series coins first appears on the highpoints of the hair curls and leaves. Beware of copper coins that have been cleaned and colored to create the impression they are uncirculated.

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