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‘In God We Trust’ First Used in 1864
By Ginger Rapsus, Numismatic News
July 26, 2012

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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The two-cent coin was minted for only 10 years, from 1864-1873. All were minted at Philadelphia. The design of a shield on the obverse and a wreath on the reverse has never been mentioned in any list of most attractive designs. What makes this coin special? Does anything make it special? Most collectors seem to ignore it.

This coin is a genuine piece of U.S. history, minted out of the need for small change during the Civil War. There are varieties and proof strikings to keep a collector hunting. And it’s memorable for being the first United States coin to bear the motto, “In God We Trust.”

The Act of April 22, 1864, provided for the mintage of a two-cent coin, struck in bronze. James Longacre designed the coin, as simple a design as ever used on a circulating coin. Along with the name of the country, the denomination and the date. Not only did “In God We Trust” appear for the first time, but it was placed very conspicuously above the shield on the obverse. It could hardly have been made more prominent.

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Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase received a letter from a Baptist minister urging him to consider using the name of God on our nation’s coinage. With the religious sentiment during the time of the Civil War, this idea was adopted after some bureaucratic deliberations. Patterns bearing the mottoes “God Our Trust” and “God and our Country” were made in 1863. The motto “In God We Trust” was finally used, perhaps echoing the motto of Chase’s alma mater, Brown University: “In God we hope.”

Two-cent coins were struck each year from 1864-1873. Mintage figures tapered off every year, with the final year produced in proof only. The proof mintage numbers of these coins are not certain. Assembling a set of two-cent coins should not be difficult, as there are no impossible rarities and the coin is not exactly in high demand. Discriminating collectors may want to seek high grade coins showing red Mint luster and no staining or spotting. The only really expensive coins are the Small Motto 1864 and the 1872 and 1873.

The small motto coin is one of a few varieties known in this set. The differences are obvious when the coins are placed side by side. The large motto shows a narrow letter D in “God.” Also, the first letter “T” in “Trust” is farther from the crease in the ribbon.

There are close and open 3 varieties of the 1873 issue, as on most coins of this date. A scarce doubled-die obverse exists for the 1867. Mintage is unknown, and the price is a bit higher than for normal coins. It’s a scarce coin that is not generally known.

Proofs were struck every year of issue. Mintage figures, while not exact, are small, with a peak of about 1,000 for the 1870. The proof mintage for the 1864 is estimated at only a hundred or so, but the price isn’t that painful – another scarce coin that is underappreciated. A set of proof two-cent coins can be put together for a fairly reasonable cost.

If a collector enjoys the two-cent series, he can choose to collect a number of patterns to add further interest to a date set. Pattern two-cent pieces dated 1836 are available, showing a very different design from the one used in 1864. The 1836 patterns show a small eagle, similar to the small eagle on silver coins of the 1790s, with a wreath on the reverse. These patterns were struck in billon (silver of less than 50 percent purity), copper-nickel, copper and white metal.

1863 patterns appear similar to the adopted design, but with the motto “God Our Trust” and a more curved word “Cents.” These were struck in bronze, copper, copper-nickel, and aluminum. There are also patterns bearing a portrait of George Washington and the motto “God and our Country.” Fans of United States coinage may want to find these patterns and display them, to show the derivation of the familiar motto.

1864 patterns are very similar to the regular coin, with some showing the word “Cents” more curved. These were struck in bronze, copper, nickel, copper-nickel and aluminum. There are also trial pieces of 1865 through 1873, struck in copper, aluminum and other metals. A specialist in two-cent coins can keep hunting many years for desired pieces.

Two-cent coins are historical and true relics of the Civil War. Although a short series, the many patterns, trial pieces and varieties available can pique a numismatist’s interest for many years, producing a set of scarce coins that not many collectors can ever own.

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