John D. Wright, cataloger extraordinarie of the large cents of 1816
to 1839, writes that the series collectors refer to as the Middle
Dates offers "more bang-for-the-buck than the ones either before
(too many bucks) or after (not enough bang)."
Catalogers of large cents generally classify cents as the Early
Dates (1793 to 1814); the Middle Dates (1816 to 1839; no 1815 cents
were struck); and the Late Dates (1840 to 1857). Wright's reference to
"too many bucks" for the Early Date cents characterizes the
expense involved in acquiring the many rare die varieties and dates,
while his comment "not enough bang" refers to technological
improvements to the minting process that make the cents of 1840 to
1857 less interesting (at least to some).
To a neophyte, the cents of 1816 to 1857 appear to have the same
designs: a portrait of Liberty wearing a coronet on the obverse, a
wreath on the reverse). However, specialists know that the designs of
the Middle Date cents are variations on that Coronet Liberty-Wreath theme. All are not the same.
COIN VALUES: See how much Middle Date large cents are worth today
Why are the Middle Date cents so interesting?
Wright writes that the Middle Date series offers enough
"specialty" that he would never feel the letdown of the
"complete collection syndrome" that one feels when
"plugging that last hole in each album."
The fun is in the chase and in the seeking, Wright writes, not in
the having. And what a chase it can be.
Collectors can choose from several ways to collect Middle Date
cents, Wright advises. One approach is a date set. Another way to
approach the series is to collect one of each date and major
varieties. A third approach is to focus on a single year. A fourth
approach involves chasing after all of the nearly 250 die varieties
(the approach that has kept John Wright so happy over the years).
Expanding that latter goal to include die states, and one has a goal
that will probably never be completed. Other approaches include
collecting errors. Whatever your approach, you'll have fun with Middle
Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:
Cents and half cents:
2- and 3-cent coins:
Dimes and half dimes: