Guide to U.S. Braided Hair Cents

The Braided Hair Cent (Buy on eBay) was issued from 1839 to 1857 and represents the final series of large cents. The production and distribution of the bulky copper coins had become unprofitable for the United States Mint and the pieces were increasingly unpopular with the public. The situation was rectified with the Coinage Act of 1857, which discontinued half cents and large cents and adopted the small-sized cent as the lowest denomination. These changes also spurred an increased interest in coin collecting, with many attempting to assemble complete collections of large cents dating back to their inception.

The large cent had been authorized under the Coinage Act of 1792 and was first struck in 1793 across two different types. This was followed by two additional designs during the first decade of issuance and two more designs in the years following. Across all types, the coins featured a portrait of Liberty on the obverse and typically a wreath on the reverse. The appearance of Liberty varied over the years, ranging from youthful to more mature and dour. The denomination had circulated heavily within the early United States as an important medium of exchange within day-to-day commerce.

The final type for the large cent was designed by Christian Gobrecht. He had been born in Pennsylvania in 1785, as the son of a German immigrant man and an American-born woman. Gobrecht was appointed as an engraver at the Mint in 1835 and became the Chief Engraver in 1840, a position which he retained until his death in 1844. He was responsible for many well-known coin designs, including the Liberty Seated motif used on the majority of silver coinage until the final decade of the 19th century.

The obverse of the Braided Hair Large Cent features Liberty, facing left, wearing a headband inscribed LIBERTY. Thirteen stars appear around with the date below. For the initial years of the series, the head appears smaller and tilted forward. In 1843, the head was enlarged and straightened. The obverse design is said to have been inspired by Benjamin West’s painting Omnia Vincit Amor depicting Venus, which was exhibited in Philadelphia during 1839. Similar to the previous type, the reverse features a circular wreath of olive branches, along with the inscriptions ONE CENT and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.


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