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The Humdrum 1814 Cent
By R.W. Julian, Coins Magazine
February 06, 2014

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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To most modern-day collectors of the early copper coinage the 1814 cent is little more than just one piece in a date run of the Classic Head cents. This series, which began in 1808, saw 1814 as its last date.

The 1814 cent is relatively scarce though not especially difficult to locate in the lower grades. As with most large cents of the early 1800s, however, in the higher grades the price goes up considerably.

There is little in the way of history usually attached to this coin because it is just part of a series. Moreover, the head of Liberty, executed by assistant engraver John Reich in 1808, is not exactly a stunning work of art and these two reasons have combined to place the 1814 cent in the humdrum category. Yet there is much more to this coin than most of the early cents.

In those days the planchets for cents and half cents were made by Matthew Boulton of Birmingham, England, and shipped to Philadelphia. The last such shipment of cent planchets prior to 1814 arrived in June 1812, just as war was breaking out with England.

Mint Director Robert Patterson, knowing that the war might well last for some time, was careful about striking too many cent pieces and thereby running out of planchets. More than 1 million pieces were struck in 1812, however, leaving about 800,000 planchets out of the roughly 1.9 million received in 1812.

In 1813 just over 400,000 cents were struck, leaving about 360,000 planchets on hand; these would have to last as long as needed. But in 1813 a fresh problem arose.

This new impediment was also caused by the war. There were no domestic copper mines and all copper had to be imported. In 1813 this meant England, which, of course, was not possible. The lack of fresh copper supplies encouraged speculators and the price per pound went from about 25 cents to as high as 70 cents within a relatively short time.

By the summer of 1813 the public had hoarded most of the silver and gold coins that could be found and turned their attention to the copper as the price rose in the metals marketplace. In response U.S. Treasurer Thomas Tucker, acting through his Philadelphia deputy Tench Coxe, on Nov. 13 ordered the Mint not to pay out any more copper coins until further notice. As the coins struck in 1813 had already left the Mint, this prevented Patterson from issuing copper coins until the order was lifted.

As if the problems with the copper coinage were not quite enough, the war-time economic troubles meant that less gold and silver bullion was brought to the Mint for coinage. (The government did not provide bullion for coinage until after 1830.) This in turn meant that workers were now standing idle, forcing Patterson to lay off some of his key employees.

In an effort to keep more of the hands at work, in mid-September 1814 Patterson ordered that the remaining cent planchets be struck on the screw press. It took about 25 working days to strike these planchets and on Oct. 27 chief coiner Adam Eckfeldt delivered 357,830 one-cent pieces to Mint Treasurer James Rush.

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Even though the coins had been struck and delivered, however, they could not be paid out because of the 1813 order from Tucker. Patterson could do little except bide his time and lay off more employees, a task he found less than enjoyable as many of the men had served faithfully since before 1800.

As if the preceding troubles were not enough, the government ran out of money and none could be found to pay Mint employees. Repeated requests by Patterson for funds were met with silence until late December when $20 Treasury notes were sent.

The Treasury notes were technically issued as loans, according to law, but the notes did circulate as ordinary currency. The denominations were virtually useless for paying employees, who rarely earned more than $30 or $35 per month, so Patterson exchanged the notes for silver coins that had been frozen at a local bank on government account.

Shortly after the Treasury notes were sent, Tucker notified Patterson that the embargo on issuing cents had been lifted. The freshly struck coins were sent to a local bank and distributed primarily in the Philadelphia area. But this was not quite the end of the story.

In June 1832 a handful of collectors in Massachusetts, unable to find the 1814 date in ordinary change, asked toll-keepers at local bridges and roads to be on the lookout for such pieces, offering to pay a few extra cents for their troubles.

One individual hearing of this offer thought there must be more to it and decided that gold had been accidentally mixed with the copper in 1814 and the collectors were really after the gold. The person starting the rumor was obviously unaware that all copper planchets had been imported from England at that time.

This pesky rumor was still being repeated after 1860 though rarely seen today. Even in the 1830s newspapers had denounced the idea of gold in the cent coinage but such denials probably fed public appetite. Today, of course, the collector owning an 1814 cent is able to appreciate the interesting history behind this coinage.

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