1839-1857 Braided Hair Cents

  • The Braided Hair Cent was issued from 1839 until 1857 and represented the final series of large cents before the introduction of the small cent into circulation. The cost of producing and distributing the large copper coins had risen to the point of unprofitability for the US Mint and the bulky coins had become increasingly unpopular with the public. With the Act of February 21, 1857, the small cent was officially authorized to replace the large cent and the half cent denomination was discontinued. These changes spurred increased interest in coin collecting with many attempting to assemble complete collections of large cents back to their inception in 1793.

  • The large cent had been authorized by the Coinage Act of 1792, and was first struck in two different types in 1793. This was followed by two additional design changes during the first decade of issue. Throughout all years, the coins featured a portrait of Liberty on the obverse and a wreath on the reverse. The portrait of Liberty appeared in various forms over the years, ranging from a youthful appearance to a more mature and dour appearance for later types. As can be expected, circulation for the denomination was quite heavy  and most of the American public had become well acquainted with the large copper coins in their pickets.
  • The final type for the large cent would be designed by Christian Gobrecht, who had previous been involved in the creation of two earlier 1839 varieties of the previous type. He had been born in Pennsylvania in 1785, the son of a German man who had immigrated to the American colonies and married an American born woman, in the mid 18th century. Christian Gobrecht was appointed as an engraver at the Mint in 1835 and later become chief engraver in 1840, a position which he retained until his death in 1844. He is responsible for many famous coins, including the 1836 dollars named after him and the later Liberty Seated design used on the majority of all silver coins until the last decade of the 19th century.
  • The obverse of the Braided Hair Large Cent features Liberty, facing left, with the word LIBERTY on her headband. Thirteen stars, representing the original thirteen states appears around with the date below. For the first years of the series up to 1843 the head is small and tilted forward. It was enlarged in 1843 and that design continued to be struck until the end of the series. This design was based on the Matron Head large cents which had been first struck in 1816, but featuring Liberty with a much younger appearance. Gobrecht is said to have been inspired by Benjamin West’s painting called Omnia Vincit Amor, depicting Venus, said to have been exhibited in Philadelphia during 1839. This obverse is largely similar to that used on the gold coins introduced in the same decade. The reverse features a wreath, with ONE CENT within and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA around.

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