Historic 1864 Two Cent Piece, Small Motto, PR64 Red
1864 2C Small Motto PR64 Red NGC. Ex: Richmond Collection.
This famously rare two cent issue shares some similarities with the
recent Presidential dollars. The two cent piece premiered in 1864
while the Civil War raged, and it was the first to bear the motto
IN GOD WE TRUST. The Presidential dollars were the first to move
that motto to the edge, a move that has been doubly problematic:
First, the Mint has had numerous errors on the Presidential coins,
because they go through a separate step to impart the edge
lettering, which includes the date and mintmark, the motto, and E
PLURIBUS UNUM; Second, the "hiding" of the reference to the Deity
is an unpopular one in many quarters.
First Coin Denomination To Bear IN GOD WE TRUST
Estimated Mintage 12-15 Pieces
"In God We Trust," although introduced in 1864 and seen oftener today on coins and currency than anywhere else, became the national motto by an act of Congress in 1956. Only then did it replace "E Pluribus Unum," Latin for "Out of Many, One," the former secular national motto. In 1957 "In God We Trust" was officially made permanent on American currency. Indian cents lacked it, but it was added to Lincoln cents at their 1909 debut. The Shield nickel, introduced in 1867, carried the motto but it was dropped from the Liberty and Buffalo nickels, only to reappear on Jefferson nickels. The Mercury dime bore the motto at its 1916 premier, and it has appeared on all gold coins, dollars, half dollars, and quarters struck since 1908. As President Theodore Roosevelt learned in 1907, one removes IN GOD WE TRUST from coinage at his own peril: Congress overrode his deep-seated objections to its appearance on coinage in 1908. More recently, the House has voted to strip funding for the Mint if those funds are to be used for edge-lettering the Presidential dollars, clearly an attempt to restore the edge inscriptions--especially IN GOD WE TRUST--to the coins' faces.
An upsurge in religious sentiment during the Civil War provided the impetus to put IN GOD WE TRUST on coinage. The Rev. M.R. Watkinson, of Ridleyville, Pennsylvania, was one of many who wrote to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase in 1861, suggesting that "God, Liberty, Law" be added. Chase charged Mint Director James Pollock to develop suitable wording, and the numerous versions included "Our Trust is in God," "Our God and Our Country," "God and Our Country," and "God Our Trust." The two cent piece was launched with IN GOD WE TRUST in 1864.
Walter Breen's Proof Encyclopedia writes of the Small Motto variant, "Mintage unknown. Thought to have formed an extremely small percentage of the 100 proofs issued in July 1864, but more likely to have been made in infinitesimal quantity (of the order of magnitude of a dozen or fifteen pieces?) late in April, outside the normal issue of proof sets ... Only the one obverse die used for proofs and nonproofs; very little distinction between vertical and horizontal and curved parts of letters in thickness. This working die was originally used on patterns, bearing the 1863 reverse with CENTS markedly curved ... . Date is low and distant from ball; there are also differences in the die work on leaves of wreath above shield, the berry below final T in TRUST on large motto coins being absent, second leaf of group under TRUST (that in highest relief) having a long stem absent on the large motto hub, etc. Reverse of regular type with ER showing recutting on proofs -- this die not used on circulated pieces ... ." Breen goes on to enumerate three specimens and concludes that he has seen "at least" three others, ending with "the estimate of about ten known is unlikely to be bettered."
Strangely, while the doubling at ER Breen mentions is unseen on this coin, he fails to mention the obvious die doubling that all proof Small Mottos show, fittingly, on the motto, as well as prominently on the left arrowhead bottom, the bottom horizontal shield stripe, the bottom of the fletchings, and numerous other areas. This piece shows delightful pinkish-red surfaces on both sides that are clearly within a full Red designation, although a few light flecks are seen that prevent a Gem grade. This historic proof coin, one that signaled a permanent sea change in American life and society that continues to reverberate in American numismatics to this day, is no doubt destined for one of the finest American cabinets. Census: 1 in 64 Red, 0 finer (7/07).(Registry values: P6) (NGC ID# 274S, PCGS# 3626)
Weight: 6.22 grams
Metal: 95% Copper, 5% Tin & zinc
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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