Editor's note: The following is a
portion of Bill Eckberg's
cover feature on U.S. coins in the
War of 1812 era. Links to the rest of the series can be found at the
bottom of this post.
The year 1815 was a significant one for the United States of
America, but one that saw little activity at the U.S. Mint. Yet
what the Mint did in 1815 has an outsize interest for coin collectors
and students of numismatics.
The cents of 1815?
Unlike most silver and gold coinage, cent production continued
throughout the War of 1812. The cents produced during the war were of
the Classic Head type, designed, as the other types we have discussed,
by John Reich.
The Mint did not strike copper coins for bullion depositors. Rather,
it purchased ready-made planchets from suppliers. In the early 1800s
Matthew Boulton of Birmingham, England, was the supplier. Boulton
shipped nearly 60 tons of cent planchets to the Mint between 1807 and
1811. The last shipment arrived on April 15, 1812, shortly before
hostilities broke out. No more planchets would be available until
after the war. The last 357,830 coins struck on these planchets were
delivered on Oct. 27, 1814.
Cents were struck in 1815, but no cents dated 1815 exist. In fact,
1815 is the only date since 1793 for which no cents can be found. What
cents were struck in 1815?
Once the war was over in early 1815, the Mint ordered 5 tons of
planchets from Boulton. These arrived in the fall and were struck into
coins as soon as possible. The resulting 465,500 cents were delivered
on Feb. 27, 1816. But what coins were these? Most writers have assumed
that they were the first examples of the Coronet or Matron Head type
of 1816 to 1839, dated 1816. But it’s hard to believe that the Mint
could have developed a completely new design and coined 465,500 cents
from the newly designed dies in the first six weeks of the year. As we
have seen, the quarter dollars and half dollars delivered in early
1816 were all dated 1815, so it is logical that cents struck and
delivered about the same time would not have been dated 1816 either.
Use of a die in a year after the one stamped on it was common
practice at the Philadelphia Mint during this era. All of the dollars
delivered in 1804 were dated 1803, and most 1795-dated half cents were
struck and delivered in 1796. Many other examples could be given.
Perhaps, therefore, the coins were struck from a leftover die dated
1814. The surviving population of coins tells us that if the entire
mintage for the date was the recorded 357,830, 1814 Classic Head cents
are far more common, relative to the original mintage, than other
Classic Head dates. Not only that, but 1816 Matron Head cents are less
common than 1817 and 1818 Matron Heads, relative to their supposed
mintage, if all cents delivered in 1816 were dated 1816. If, on the
other hand, the Feb. 27, 1816, delivery was composed of 1814-dated
cents, both dates would be about equally common relative to mintage as
others of their types are. This was reported in 2001 by Dr. Ronald P.
Manley in Penny-Wise.
The Professional Coin
Grading Service and Numismatic Guaranty Corp. population reports are
a useful resource for numismatists, and they support this finding. If
the total mintage of 1814-dated cents was 357,830, that is only 8.7
percent of the total Classic Head mintage. However, 29 percent of the
Classic Head cents PCGS and NGC have graded were dated 1814. This is
more than a three-fold difference.
Three possible explanations for this come to mind.
First, more 1814 cents might exist in higher grades, resulting in
more submissions to the grading services relative to the surviving
population size. This does contribute, but only in a small way.
Second, there was a rumor in the early 1830s, thoroughly debunked
immediately, that 1814 cents contained trace amounts of gold, which
could have led to hoarding. However, the coins had already been
circulating for almost 20 years by then, and it seems that if anyone
had actually tried to hoard them to get the nonexistent gold, he would
have melted them down, and fewer would survive.
The third possibility is that substantially more than 357,830 cents
were struck with the 1814 date.
If we suppose that the cents struck in late 1815 and delivered in
February 1816 were dated 1814, the total mintage for the year becomes
823,330, or about 18 percent of the total Classic Head mintage. That
is still lower than the 29 percent graded by PCGS and NGC, but
combined with the larger fraction surviving in high grade, the
agreement is good.
The cents, like the other coins the Mint produced in 1815, are
expensive. According to
Coin World Coin Values, an example in VG-8
can be purchased for $150, one in VF-20 for $750 and an AU-50 for
$3,100. PCGS has graded 586 examples, and NGC has graded 319.
Collectors of early large cents are among the most dedicated and
active in American numismatics, so the demand is greater than for the
silver and gold coins.
The 1814 Classic Head cents are available in two die marriages or
varieties: one with a plain 4 and the other with a crosslet 4. Can we
tell which of the two varieties was probably struck in 1815? Yes, we can.
The number minted in 1815 was about one-third more than that in
1814, so the more common of the two varieties must have been the one
struck in 1815. That would be the plain 4 variety.
If the 1814 large cents are too expensive for you, how about trying
to buy one dated 1815? To fill that hard-to-fill-hole in the
collection, people have altered other coins to create the 1815-dated
cent the Mint never made. Various host coins have been used for this
purpose, usually 1813, but also 1845. Some of the alterations are so
well done that it is hard to tell they aren’t real. Most, however, are
not very deceptive, and can be purchased for $100 or less as damaged
or altered coins.
If the first delivery in 1816 was of 1814-dated cents, when did the
first ones dated 1816 appear? No more cents were delivered until Dec.
20, 1816, so it seems likely that the design change took place during
that lengthy interval. It is generally thought that the new design was
the product of Robert Scot, chief engraver of the Mint since 1794, but
Reich was still working at the Mint in late 1816, so we can’t be sure
which of them created the new design.
The War of 1812 and its aftermath had a profound effect not only on
the government and economy, but also on the coinage produced, making
1815 a fun, interesting, unusual, and highly challenging year for coin
collectors. The coins produced in 1815 can be costly, but they are
important relics of a most important time in the history of our country.
Keep reading this series:
The remarkable year of 1815: War of 1812's end and
the U.S. Mint
Gold 1815 Capped Head half eagle a rare and
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