The two-cent piece was designed by James B. Longacre, the Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, and was the first coin of the United States to bear the motto "In God We Trust." The design is similar to the shield nickel of the same period, which was also designed by Longacre. Civil War era silver shortages led to widespread hoarding of all silver coins, and most one and five cent coins as well. Various alternatives were tried, including encapsulated postage and privately issued coinage. The Treasury eventually settled on issuing fractional currency.
These small denomination (1 to 50 cent) notes were never popular, as they were easy to lose and unwieldy in large amounts. The answer to this issue was reached in 1865 with the introduction of the three cent nickel coin. This coin was composed of copper and nickel and was larger than the silver coin of the same denomination. The coin featured a Liberty head obverse and another Roman numeral 'III' reverse. The three cent nickel was never intended as a permanent issue, only as stopgap measure until the wartime hoarding ceased. However, production of the coin continued until 1889, 16 years after the three cent silver was discontinued. One reason often given for the discontinuation of the three cent nickel piece in 1889 is that this coin and the dime (10 cent silver coin) were identical in diameter, and hence caused confusion upon the introduction of mechanical vending machines. Another factor may have been that in 1883 the letter postage rate dropped to 2 cents, thus removing the justification for this coin.
Overall Measurements: 6"W x 4"H.
The idea of striking an image of a past president on a circulating coin in the United States ignited a controversy in 1909. The act of honoring the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth by etching his likeness into the American cent directly violated a long-standing tradition in American coinage. Many believed that the custom established by George Washington of not using the images of presidents on circulating coins should be respected. Despite this resistance, the coin adopted the image of Lincoln and also the initials of the coin's designer, Victor D. Brenner. The relative prominence of the V.D.B. on the reverse of the coin led many to criticize the design. The initials were removed shortly thereafter but eventually returned in a more subtle form in 1918.
The coin debuted with a reverse featuring a pair of wheat ears encircling the words, "One Cent" and "United States of America". The term "Wheat Penny" derives from this reverse design. In 1959, to honor the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth, a new reverse, designed by noted U.S. Mint Engraver, Frank Gasparro, replaced the original. The new reverse displayed a striking image of the Lincoln Memorial surrounded by the words, "One Cent" and "United States of America." This reverse design remained on the penny until 2009 when four new reverse images were introduced to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth and the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Cent. The four designs each honored a different stage of Lincoln's life and were released one at a time every three months over the course of the year.
The Buffalo Nickel was designed by James Earle Fraser and first minted in 1913. This extremely popular and legendary coin features the profile of a Native American man on the obverse and the image of a bison on a small hill on the reverse. Fraser revealed before his death that his depiction of the man on the obverse was a composite profile based upon Chief Iron Tail of the Lakota Sioux, Chief Two Moons of the Cheyenne, and possibly a third man. Although this third person was not specified by Fraser, many believe him to be Chief Big Tree of the Kiowa. The reverse design is thought to be an image of a famous bison at the time named Black Diamond, which lived at the New York Zoo.
The United States Mint produced the coin up until 1938 when it was replaced by Felix Schlag's portrait of Thomas Jefferson on the obverse and an image of the third President's home, Monticello, on the reverse. In 2006, James Earle Fraser's definitive work on the Buffalo Nickel was again used as the design for the new 24K gold American Buffalo coin. The U.S. Mint also struck a coin in 2001 featuring Fraser's famous Buffalo Nickel design to commemorate the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian in the Smithsonian Institution.