Classic Head Large Cents

In 1808, the large cent saw another new design, representing the fifth in just fifteen years of production. The new type would be known as the Classic Head Cent and was based on the previous large cents, but bore little actual resemblance to those. The new design would also be introduced for the half cent in 1809, and later for the silver and gold denominations around the same time, with these coins carrying similar features but an overall distinctive look. This type is closely associated with the War of 1812, which would ultimately bring an end to the series.

The Classic Head Large Cent was designed by John Reich and featured the head of Liberty, facing left for the first time on this denomination. Her hair is in curls, and held together with a headband, which is said to have originated in ancient Greece, inscribed with LIBERTY. For the first time, stars were placed adjacent to the portrait on the obverse, arranged seven to the left and six to the right, one for each of the original states. As had been the case with the earlier cent designs, the new cents were much criticized, and it was obvious that the engraving talents of Reich were limited. He would only be at the Mint for ten years, resigning on March 31, 1817, and never receiving a different position than assistant engraver to Robert Scot. Yet, his work would continue on other denominations for several decades.

The reverse of the cent featured a different appearance of the same basic design previously used. An olive wreath is seen, now fully encircled and closed, with ONE CENT in the center. A horizontal line is placed beneath the denomination. Unlike earlier cents, the denomination was no longer given as 1/100, perhaps an indication that more Americans had learned how to read and write by this time. As on the earlier cents, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA was around, near the rim.

On July 12, 1812, the so-called War of 1812 between the United States and the British Empire commenced with the invasion of the Canadian town of Sandwich. The previous month, the war had already been declared, perhaps best described as the result from the good trade relations between the United States and Britain’s rival, France.  The war that followed, and which would last until the treaty of Ghent was signed in December of 1814, had an immediate effect on the Classic Head Cents in production at the Philadelphia Mint. At the time, the Mint acquired its planchets from the British firm Boulton & Watt. With the British embargo on American trading, the supply came to a halt, and planchets had to be obtained elsewhere. American companies were eager to produce the planchets, but the supply was limited and overall quality low. Most of the cents dated 1814 were struck on whatever leftover planchets could be found, which had already been stored at the Mint for several years. Because of this, cents of 1813 and 1814 tend to be darker and of lesser quality than those of earlier years.

No cents were struck in 1815, as no planchets were on hand, and it took a long time until new planchets could arrive from England. The trading embargo was lifted shortly after the War ended, but it would not be until the end of 1816 that production of cents was resumed, now with a different design. This represented the end of the the short-lived and now somewhat overlooked series. Overall mintages were low and some issues are considerably scarce. Varieties are not as plentiful as earlier cents, but do exist, although overall interest is lower and there are fewer true rarities.