The bronze Two Cent Piece of 1864-1873 is one of America’s “odd denominations.” This short-lived series was created in response to the shortage of coins during the Civil War. With metals prices surging during the war, the United States Mint had difficulty producing copper cents at a profitable rate. The solution was to change the metallic composition to bronze—and to issue a two cent piece on which the Mint would realize a higher margin.
When the first Two Cent pieces were released in 1864, they were met with tremendous public demand. From 1861-1863, most small coinage had disappeared from circulation and citizens were using tokens, postage and fractional paper currency in their place. Americans were anxious to use standard federally-issued coins again.
However, once official US coinage became abundant and plentiful again, the Two Cent piece’s popularity began to wane. Most Americans favored the one cent coin and saw the Two Cent piece as a white elephant of sorts. Mintages were robust in 1864 and 1865, but they slowly dissipated later in the decade. Finally in 1873 the denomination was discontinued altogether.
Despite being a short-lived coinage series, the Two Cent piece has the distinction of being the very first American coin to display “IN GOD WE TRUST.” It is only fitting that this motto, which was introduced due to wartime sentiment, was first used on a coin caused by the war too. A small number of pattern Two Cent pieces were struck with the motto “GOD OUR TRUST” but ultimately the phrase was modified before regular production began.
The Two Cent piece may have been unpopular as a circulating coin, but it is a favorite among numismatists today. It is a short but easy-to-complete series within most collectors’ budgets. The two most common years, 1864 and 1865, are readily available in Uncirculated with Gem MS 65 specimens readily available. It is also possible to find Two Cent pieces with full original mint red color.
Two Cent Pieces in proof are generally quite scarce. Mintages are quite low for all issues, but the rarest by far is the 1864 Small Motto variety. It is believed that just 30 pieces were struck, of which perhaps a half dozen or so survive today. These have traded hands at auction for prices between $25,000 and $40,000 in recent years. By comparison, the 1864 Large Motto variety has about 50-75 survivors and generally sells for $750-$2500.