Check Your Spare Change for 2-Cent Coins — Some Are Selling for Over $1,500
While credit cards and inflation have rendered coins useless for day-to-day transactions, some coins have a different purpose in the modern day: They are collector's items. This is true for the 2-cent coin — a piece made of copper and nickel. Slightly thicker than the present-day penny, the 2-cent coin was minted between 1864 and 1973. This limited production means that certain pieces are valuable, with some coins selling for over $1,500.
So, how do you know if you have a valuable 2-cent coin on your hands? It depends on a variety of factors, including the date stamped on the coin, the condition, and the rarity. (Indeed, some 2-cent coins may be worth only $15.) Learn more about this interesting piece of history below.
History of the 2-Cent Coin
In 1806, Senator Uriah Tracy of Connecticut suggested in a bill that the US Mint create a 2-cent piece (made of 90 percent copper and 10 percent silver). The House of Representatives defeated the bill, but the idea came back into legislation a few times in the early and mid-1800s. Finally, in 1863, the government passed a bill that approved the creation of a bronze 2-cent piece. The idea was to offset the shortage of 1-cent coins, which people hoarded during the Civil War.
Designed by James Barton Longacre, a mint engraver, the two-cent coin became a mix of copper and nickel, not bronze. It features a union shield on the front, with an "In God We Trust" banner at the top. (In fact, it is the first US coin to feature the motto.) The union shield was a prominent Civil War symbol that signified a unified nation under President Lincoln's leadership. On the back of the coin is a wreath surrounding the label "2 cents," and the words "United States of America," which encircle the wreath.
What Makes a 2-Cent Coin Valuable
Here are the main factors that determine a 2-cent coin's value: mintage number, variety, popularity and demand, condition, striking condition, and color. Read more about each below.
The mintage number is the number of coins minted in a specific year. For example, the mintage number for 1864 2-cent coins is 19.8 million, because the US mint created 19.8 million of them in 1864. In each subsequent year until the US stopped making 2-cent coins, the number of coins dropped: 13.6 million in 1865, 3.17 million in 1866, 2.9 million in 1867, 2.8 million in 1868, 1.5 million in 1869, 861,000 in 1870, 721,000 in 1871, 65,000 in 1872.
In 1873, just 1,100 2-cent coins were struck and sold to collector's — they never went into circulation. As a result, 2-cent coins from 1872 and 1873 are rarer than those from 1864, so the 2-cent coins from later years often sell for more money. (Although: The US government redeemed and melted many 2-cent coins so the US mint could re-use the metal. As a result, any 2-cent coin has a chance at being high-value.)
A variety on a coin is a specific characteristic created during the minting process. So, not all coins from the same year will have the exact same minting. For example: The 1864 2-cent coin comes in two varieties: small motto (with a small "In God We Trust" banner on the coin's front) and large motto (featuring a small banner). Small motto, 2-cent coins are more rare, so they tend to be higher in value.
Another variety in 2-cent coins: Some had a "re-punched date." A re-punched date occurs when the year is punched more than once into the coin, because of an error. Re-punched coins are highly prized; one 1864 2-cent piece with a re-punched date is currently valued at $799.
Popularity and Demand
A coin's value can increase or decrease every year depending on the buzz it generates. If more people are interested in one particular coin listed on eBay, for instance, the bid goes up. The popularity of 2-cent coins doesn't rise and fall as much as other coins, so their value tends to remain steady.
The condition is one of the most important factors in determining a coin's value. A coin in poor condition is heavily eroded — numbers, lettering, and symbols stamped onto it may have worn away completely. In contrast, a coin in good condition is one that still has visible numbers, lettering, and symbols, though they may be worn away to some degree. Fine condition refers to a coin with slight wear and tear, but all the detailing is crisp and visible. Lastly, mint condition refers to a coin that has virtually no wear.
The "strike" of a coin refers to the pressing of an image into the blank metal. The term dates back thousands of years, when coins were struck with hammers. Nowadays, coins are struck, or minted, by hydraulic coining machines.
The striking condition refers to how well an image is imprinted in the metal of the coin. So, if a 2-cent coin has distinct features — like a well-defined shield on the front and a well-defined wreath on the back — its value goes up.
It's not always clear whether a coin's image is "mushy" because of wear and tear or because of the initial strike, but in the world of coins, that difference matters. For example: A coin in excellent condition with a poor strike may have more value than a coin in poor condition that once had an excellent strike.
When a 2-cent coin is sent of for testing and grading, it receives one of three color designations: BN, RB, and RD. BN refers to a nearly all-brown coin, RB is a mix of red and brown, and RD is nearly all red. Red 2-cent coins are the most valuable, as these are the closest in color to mint condition.
The Rarest 2-Cent Coins
While many 2-cent coins have high value, a select few are very rare. According to Q. David Bowers, author of United States Copper Coins, "the rarest date in the 2-cent series is the Proof-only 1873. Rare varieties within the series include the 1864 with small motto, the 1867 with 'In God We Trust' doubled [re-punched], and the very rare 1869/8 over-date. Of the later piece, probably no more than two or three dozen, if indeed that many, exist." (The 1868 and 1869 coins with an "overdate" are coins that were minted with a cracked or broken die. The die is the metal stamping tool that mints the coins.)
What To Do If You Think Your 2-Cent Coin Is Valuable
If you believe you have a rare, 2-cent piece on your hands, follow these two rules before you do anything else:
If your coin is in a box, album, binder, or any sort of protective casing, leave it in there. Removing it could reduce its value.
Do not clean the coin if it is dirty.
The next step is to make an appointment with a certified coin appraiser. (Check out this list of the best coin appraiser services if you don't know where to start.) An appraiser will analyze the condition of your coin and determine how much it is worth and how much money you may get if you sell it.
And that is our (long) two cents. Good luck selling or purchasing your coinage!