Guide to U.S. 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 Large Cent. The same design would also be introduced for the half cent in 1809, followed by similar designs for the lower gold denominations in 1834. The large cent series is closely associated with the War of 1812, which significantly impacted the final years of production.

The Classic Head Large Cent was designed by John Reich. He worked at the Mint from 1807 until his resignation in 1817, never receiving a different position than assistant engraver to Robert Scot. After Reich left the Mint, his designs would continue to be used on other denominations for the next several decades. The obverse of Reich’s large cent design features the head of Liberty, facing left for the first time on this denomination. Her hair is in curls and held in place with a headband inscribed LIBERTY. Thirteen stars are placed adjacent to the portrait, arranged seven to the left and six to the right.

The reverse features a refreshed appearance of the same basic design used in the prior series. The primary design element is an olive wreath, fully encircled and closed, with ONE CENT at the center and a horizontal line beneath. Unlike earlier cents, the denomination was no longer expressed as a fraction. The design is completed with the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA encircling the wreath, near the rim of the coin.

On July 12, 1812, the War of 1812 commenced with the invasion of the Canadian town of Sandwich. The war between the United States and the British Empire had an immediate and ongoing impact on the production of large cents. At the time, the United States Mint acquired its planchets from the British firm of Boulton & Watt. When a British embargo was placed 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. By 1814, cents were being struck on whatever leftover planchets could be found, which had already been in storage at the Mint for several years. As a result, the cents of 1813 and 1814 tend to be darker and lower quality compared to earlier years.

The war would conclude with the Treaty of Ghent signed in December 1814 and the trading embargo would be lifted shortly thereafter. Nonetheless, the United States Mint would not strike any cents in 1815. The supply of planchets on hand had been fully exhausted and it would still take a long time for new planchets to arrive from England. The production of cents would finally resume at the end of 1816, but with a different design.

Thus ended the short-lived and somewhat overlooked series of Classic Head Large Cents. The mintages for the series were typically low and some issues are considered scarce. Varieties do exist, but they are not as plentiful as earlier cents and overall interest is lower.